As women in Ireland celebrate lifting of ban on abortion following a referendum that voted overwhelmingly in against the ban, India has had a liberal law on abortion since 1972 when very few countries actually allowed termination of pregnancy.
Coincidentally, it was a 31-year-old Indian dentist, Savita Halappanavar’s death in October 2012 that triggered the movement for lifting of ban in Ireland. Savita had died at University Hospital Galway due to the complications of a septic miscarriage at 17 weeks’ gestation. When it became clear that the miscarriage was inevitable, Savita had requested an abortion.
At that time the medical team had not diagnosed her with a blood infection, and her request was denied. The medical team eventually did diagnose the sepsis and determined that Savita’s life was in danger they had planned to administer misoprostol to induce delivery, but the miscarriage completed before they were able to. The sepsis continued developing and she died of a cardiac arrest caused by the sepsis Her death caused controversy at the time, nationally and internationally, leading to protests and marches.
Now, a new abortion law will be in place by the end of year, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said. It follows a landslide vote in favour of repealing the Republic of Ireland’s constitutional ban on abortion. The proposed legislation will allow abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and up to the 24th week in exceptional circumstances.
More than two thirds of voters backed the decision to change the law with every constituency in the Republic of Ireland, with the exception of Donegal. The referendum delivered a conclusive consensus for reform among men and women, nearly all age groups and across most counties.
The final figures were 66.4% in favour of the change and 33.6% voting against it.
Abortion was banned in Ireland with the insertion of the Eighth Amendment into the Irish constitution in 1983 and it gave an equal right to life to both a mother and an unborn child.
In contrast, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP), Act, 1971 allows abortion to Indian woman, though under specific conditions such as including risk to the life of pregnant woman or grave injury of physical and mental health, substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities, pregnancy as a result of rape or incest and failure of contraception. Contraception failure is the most common reason for seeking medical termination of pregnancy.
The best of part of the MTP Act is that it ensure secrecy and until recently, there was no age bar on women seeking abortion. But, under the new rape law, sex below the age of 18 years is considered as a rape and makes it mandatory for the health provider to report the matter, and hence any girl below 18 years, now finds it difficult to seek abortion. The provision is in conflict with the law.
However, the Indian government has put severe restrictions on medical termination of pregnancy due to an increase in sex selective abortion as daughters are not preferred and hence sex-selective abortion is practised, resulting in an unnatural male to female population sex ratio.
Despite a liberal law and abortion services being offered free of cost at the public health facilities across the country and abortion pills being available across the counter, there is little awareness about it among women. Studies have shown, most women think abortion was illegal. In the wake of stigma attached to abortion, married women prefer to go to back-street quacks for abortion. On the other hand, adolescent girls have been seen using abortion as a contraception method without realising the health impact of repeated abortions on the body.