The abortion debate
The death of 31-year-old Savita Halappanavar in Catholic Ireland in October has again raised the abortion debate amongst Irish political leaders and resulted in outrage in India and other countries. This debate has been most polarizing; we all are never neutral in this debate and stand on either side of the pendulum. We are either pro-choice, giving the right to the woman to decide whether she would like to go ahead with the birth or not. Else we are part of the pro-life group, which argues that the unborn foetus has a right to live.
The recent mishap occurred because Savita, who was 17 weeks pregnant, went to the hospital with back pain. Doctors told her that she was miscarrying but she was denied an abortion since it was banned in Ireland. This decision was taken as the foetal heartbeat was still there. The child could not be saved but the law prevented doctors to continue with the abortion. Three days later, Savita died of blood infection.
Pro-choice arguments say that personhood begins with birth and not conception. A woman would go for unsafe abortion (back-alley) methods if there is no recourse to it in a legal way. This is happening in Ireland where women leave the country to get an abortion or order abortion pills online. Others say that abortion is acceptable in cases where pregnancy was a result of a crime like rape or incest or child abuse or only to save the mother’s life. However, a legal ban makes doctors afraid to go ahead with abortion.
The religious or moral grounds that formed the pro-life group’s arguments has now included reason and many agree that every effort needs to be made to enable and empower a woman to choose life. Does a woman’s fundamental right as to choice over her body also include her right to end an embryo or foetus which is yet unborn, even if it has life? Ending its life before birth does not render it dead says the rationale. You must be born to die. A foetus is not born yet. Then, is it the same as killing an innocent human being?
A child with genetic abnormalities or one which is unwanted owing to poverty will be born facing huge challenges. Surmounting these challenges will require support and if abandoned at birth, he/she may grow up with underutilized potential or psychological ailments. Denying a woman the right to abortion by law would be a forced intervention by government. A woman’s morals and values may make her continue with a pregnancy and raise her child. But being forced to do so because of a law to continue her pregnancy reeks of oppression.
India has a history of female infanticide, so we are essentially pro-choice with very little pregnancy rights given to the mother. Moralists say that a woman has a choice in becoming pregnant but once pregnant; the rights of the child need to take precedence over the rights of the mother. And what if the woman did not understand safe methods of contraception because of lack of sex education and has become pregnant? Does that bring in the concept of maternal duties or diminish her responsibility in this regard?
Every woman’s reason for wanting a termination is valid to her and her circumstances. The decision to go for abortion affects the mother not only emotionally, but often spiritually, as well. She often turns to her faith for advice and comfort and a way to deal with the feelings of guilt. All religions consider abortion wrong but allow it under some circumstances. Essentially, it’s a personal choice but the effects of your choice may affect you for the rest of your life.