Pro-life activists target rural Nepali women


Soman Rai, a pastor who founded the non-profit Voice of Fetus Nepal, holds up a model of a fetus during a presentation about why women shouldn't have abortions because it is killing a fetus, at a small church in the village of Shilaprabat, Sindhupalcholk district, Nepal, 2017.

Kathmandu, Nepal (CNN)Pastor Soman Rai and his group of volunteers from Kathmandu walk to a small church in the village of Shilaprabat, in Sindhupalchock, an area left devastated by the deadly earthquakes that shook Nepal three years ago.

The only way to access the area, located some 80km (50 miles) east of the capital, is via a wire footbridge and a narrow dirt path.
Once there, Rai and the group set up a table of pamphlets, and hang a large sign with the colorful handprints of children around the slogan “I Choose Life.” At the bottom of the banner is the name of Rai’s organization — Voice of Fetus Nepal.
Nepalese Christians walk nearby a small Christian church and Hindu stupa after a lecture by Soman Rai, a pastor who founded the non-profit Voice of Fetus Nepal, in the village of Shilaprabat, Sindhupalcholk district, Nepal, 2017.

Rai also comes with a black box that contains four fetal dolls — he passes these lifelike models around at every presentation he does so that people will see exactly what he means when he starts talking about abortion.
Rai’s mission is aimed at promoting a pro-life message in churches, schools and with local community leaders all over the country but critics say the group, which is funded by international donations including from the United States, is undermining a government push for access to safe and legal abortion.
The family planning and abortion provider Marie Stopes Nepal says pro-life activists, such as Rai, are deterring Nepali women from getting abortions — especially those in rural areas.
“This issue (of pro-life activists) has stigmatized safe and legal abortion in the communities. The stigmatization of abortion has created discrimination among women seeking abortion and service providers providing safe and legal abortion services,” said Marie Stopes Nepal’s Media and Communications Manager, Shreejana Bajracharya.

Lack of information

Nepal legalized abortion over 15 years ago, and there are around 1,300 authorized abortions clinics currently operating in Nepal.
Early last year the Nepali government made all abortion services free at public medical facilities but surprisingly almost none of the women CNN talked to in and around the village of Shilaprabat knew about the changes.
Issues such as lack of information, stigma, and distrust of government facilities remain among the chief reasons most women in rural areas don’t ask important questions of their healthcare providers.
Many said they didn’t know to ask if a clinic or pharmacy has proper authorization from the government, or what they should do in the event of medical complications.
It’s that gap in information among rural communities that Pastor Rai and his organization are hoping to plug with their own message.
Rai claims he has taught 32,000 pastors and church leaders throughout Nepal, either directly or indirectly through others, to help spread an anti-abortion message since the inception of his NGO in 2009.
Church goers pass around fetal models, during a presentation by Rai.

An estimated 323,000 abortions were performed in Nepal in 2014. This number translates to a rate of 42 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49, according to information provided by the US-based Guttmacher institute in partnership with Nepalese Center for Research on Environment, Health and Population Activities (CREHPA).
However, more than half of all the Nepalese abortions that were carried out were performed by illegal providers.
“Abortion clinics are not being accessible for rural women because most of the clinics and government sides are near the cities and larger towns. This is one of the reasons there is a high number of illegal abortions,” said Nepal’s Director of Family Health, Dr. Bikash Devkota.
This compares with Asia as a whole which has an estimated annual rate of abortion of 36 per 1,000 married women of reproductive age (15-44), and 24 per 1,000 for unmarried women.

Changing beliefs

Rai and his organization initially came to the earthquake-affected area immediately after the quakes in 2015.
He handed out pamphlets, which countered rumors that the shocks could adversely affect pregnant women. He also brought food, blankets, and mosquito nets.
Christians in the affected communities came out to help local villagers rebuild their homes. And international NGOs, including several Christian-based groups, flew in to provide humanitarian assistance.
“What we believe is that everybody has the right to information, that is our fundamental right,” says Rai.
“If some pro-choice groups, or pro-abortion groups say that abortion is safe, it’s a normal procedure, it’s not harmful to any women … it is not accurate information,” says Rai, adding that all Nepalese women, whether in the countryside of cities, have the right to be informed.
“We are not trying to make anyone scared or emotional. We are just sharing with them the truth,” says Rai of his work in villages like Shilaprabat.
Following the outreach, congregations at the three churches we visited say they witnessed at minimum a 50% increase in Christian conversions in the last two years, a skyrocketing number in a country where the Christian population remains firmly in the minority.
Nepalese Christians pray during a weekly church service in a small village of Tikhatal, in the Dolakha region of Nepal.

Barnabas Shrestha, Chairman of Nepal’s Christian Society said that according to the 2011 census only around 1.4% of the population was Christian in Nepal but he believes that information is incorrect.
He and his organization estimates the Christian community is around one and half million, which in a country of 26.49 million, puts their percentage around 5% of the population.
Bajracharya, from Marie Stopes Nepal, says those who convert tend to come from the lowest Dalit caste in the Hindu religion.
“The majority of Dalit communities in rural Nepal are converting to Christianity,” said Bajracharya. “Anti-abortion activists are active in those part of communities in Nepal.”
Nepalese Christians dance, sing and pray during a weekly church service in a small village of Tikhatal, in the Dolakha region of Nepal, 2017.

Though illegal since 2001, caste discrimination remains a problem in Nepal, especially in rural areas, where members of lower castes continue to struggle with instances of exclusion and on occasion, violence. For some, conversion to Christianity can be a means of escape.
The earthquake destroyed the church in Shilaprabat, and it was rebuilt near a Hindu stupa that still bears the signs of the disaster, with its steeple standing askew at a 30 degree angle.

Local outreach

On the morning of Rai’s lecture, the men and women coming in from the sweltering heat don’t seem to know what abortion is, or that it’s even the topic of the presentation.
They’ve just been asked to come by their local pastor. When asked about abortion, most don’t understand a lot about the procedure, and some have never heard of it.
He begins with a simple prayer about following the gospel of Jesus Christ.
He goes on to explain how a woman’s body works and shows slides that say life starts at conception. Then Rai pulls out those four models of fetuses at different stages in a pregnancy, although doctors may take issue with their anatomical accuracy — the model representing the development of a 12 week fetus has perfectly formed fingers and toes.
The parishioners smile and laugh as they hold the doll-like figures, sometimes taking a picture of them before passing them on.
After passing out the fetus models Rai gets to the crux of his lecture: why abortions are the same as killing a baby.
A lot of phrases he uses are common in anti-abortion rights literature the world over.
One slide talks about how abortion clinics are building a “booming business at the expense of lives that were snuffed out before they got the chance to breathe.” Another slide shows a pie chart, which explains abortion kills more lives than the combined deaths from the Holocaust, Stalin’s regime and Pol Pot’s reign in Cambodia.
Rai’s slides then become graphic with photos of aborted fetuses; pictures typically seen on posters at pro-life rallies.
A short film follows with a fetus speaking in a childlike voice, asking his mother why she would want to abort him. Many of the women in the room, who minutes before had been happily playing with their plastic models of fetuses, are now crying, and using their scarves to cover their eyes.
According to a 2010 study published in the BioMed Central article database on Pregnancy and Childbirth, Christian and Buddhist women tend to have fewer children on average than Hindus and Muslims in Nepal.
Additionally, Nepalese Christians are more likely to use modern methods of contraception like pills, injections or IUDs.
But for Rai’s followers, he wraps up his lecture with this message: these modern contraception methods can cause a woman to have a spontaneous abortion.
While that claim is medically unproven, those listening are led to believe that the only way to prevent an “unintended abortion” is to either use condoms (which he mentions also can fail) or the natural rhythm method of family planning.
He advocates for having the baby and if necessary, giving it up for adoption instead.
Nepalese Christians react to graphic pictures of aborted fetuses during a lecture by Soman Rai.

With the lines between information and misinformation blurred for a lot of Nepalese, many people rely on leaders of their community to guide them.
The church lecture Rai gave clearly impacted many in attendance. When asked if their views on abortion had changed, most likened it to murder — and considered using natural family planning instead of medical contraception.
Muna, age 16, who had attended the lecture said Rai’s views on contraception must be more accurate than what she had learned in school. When asked why she said “because he’s a Christian, so it must be the truth.”
But Rai’s talks are not just changing the minds of churchgoers, they are also hindering efforts made by aid organizations and the government.
Speaking to CNN last year, Nepal’s former Director for Family Health, Naresh Pratap Kc, admitted that it remains a “real challenge” to try and get information out to women in rural areas, especially about the free services available.
“We know that even at the remote places that people don’t know that abortion services are legal and free. Our main challenge is trying to tell these people that services are free at public facilities and that it’s legal,” said Pratap Kc.
Without a large government effort, says Pratap Kc, the potential for misinformation that endangers female health remains vast.
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Five Things You Need to Know in Light of the Upcoming Supreme Court Abortion Case


by Sunsara Taylor

June 9, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper

A decision is expected soon from the U.S. Supreme Court on a challenge to a 2015 California law that requires anti-abortion fake clinics (so-called “Crisis Pregnancy Centers”) to disclose that they are not medically certified. The law also requires all licensed clinics that provide ultrasounds, pregnancy tests, and advice on birth control to post information about affordable abortion and contraception services offered by the state. The Supreme Court case, calledNIFLA vs. Becerra, is the result of a challenge from the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, who claim that the government is violating their “right to free speech” by requiring them to promote medical services they do not approve of, namely abortion.

Here are five things you need to know about this case and the overall attack on abortion it is part of.

1. Fake Clinics Exist to Coerce Women and Girls to Bear Children Against Their Will

There are close to 4,000 fake clinics (so-called “Pregnancy Crisis Centers”) around the country. There are only 780 real abortion providers!

These fake clinics have been set up with only one purpose: to lure vulnerable women and girls for whom pregnancy is a “crisis” into what appears to be a supportive medical clinic, only to be plied with coercive anti-abortion shaming—and very frequently bald-faced LIES—aimed at pressuring them to bear children against their will. They do this even if the women come in looking for an abortion, even if they are in abusive relationships, even if they have no ability to support a child and don’t want one. These “clinics” are completely illegitimate, predatory, and ought to be shut down.

2. Being Prevented From Systematically LYING to Women to Deprive Them of a Basic and Fundamental Right Is NOT a Violation of “Free Speech”

Just as it is not a violation of the First Amendment for the government to regulate the labels on food products or what a lawyer must tell a client about their rights, it is not a violation for the government to regulate information provided by “Crisis Pregnancy Centers.” These regulations are not restrictions on speech, because they are required for the protection of the rights of the people being spoken to.

The right of women to decide for themselves when and whether to bear children is at the core of whether women are considered fully human. Without reproductive freedom, women cannot enter freely and fully into all realms of society.

3. This Lawsuit Is Just the Tip of a Theocratic Fascist Remaking of All of Society

This lawsuit is just the latest of a growing tsunami of Christian fascist assaults seeking—and succeeding in—twisting the law into an instrument of a Dark Ages theocracy. As revealed by Katherine Stewart in a recent New York Timesop-ed, there are now “more than 70 bills before state legislatures” as part of a nationwide legal blitz by extreme Christian nationalists. Meanwhile, Trump has appointed a record number of federal judges. One of Trump’s judicial nominees said trans children are part of “Satan’s plan.” A judge Trump appointed compared abortion to slavery. Many reject the science of climate change. One championed laws that were later overturned for suppressing the African American vote with “surgical precision.” This means that the federal courts that hear this tsunami of legal challenges will be even more hostile than what exists now to women, LGBTQ people, Black people, science, and to the separation of church and state.

4. There Is No Legislative Path to Stopping This Juggernaut—The Regime Must Be Driven From Power

The 2015 California law that requires fake clinics to disclose their lack of medical licenses is part of a relatively new strategy among the pro-choice movement to pass legislation aimed at protecting the rights of women.

But while these laws are just, the larger picture is clear: abortion continues to be increasingly more difficult to access, more dangerous to provide, and more stigmatized than ever. Clinics are being forced to close. Women are being forced to go to desperate measures to secure abortions—often traveling hundreds of miles, going deep into debt, enduring sexual degradation to come up with the funds, losing their jobs, and more. Many are simply being forced to have children against their will. Meanwhile, Christian fascists are using every branch of government to lock into place a Dark Ages theocracy that chokes off what few rights remain.

Only through massive and sustained political struggle that steps outside the bounds of politics-as-usual and reverses this whole direction can this assault be stopped. Right now, this means joining with RefuseFascism.org in getting prepared to launch the kind of sustained massive nonviolent movement of protests that can drive the whole fascist Trump/Pence regime from power.

5. We Do NOT Need to Live This Way—We Need to Get Organized for an Actual Revolution!

A system that puts the lives of half of humanity up for debate, a system that legislates and mandates Dark Ages ignorance and enslavement, a system that has brought forward the vile misogyny and disdain for humanity that is concentrated in the Trump/Pence regime, a system that sanctions all this with so-called “legitimacy” of its laws and its courts is a completely illegitimate system. It is also completely unnecessary. The very fact that these filthy fundamentalist predators have to peddle LIES and shame women and hound abortion providers and the rest reveals that oppression of women is something that must be enforced—and this system will keep on enforcing it until it is overthrown and cleared away and replaced by a radically new system.

A blueprint for this new, and much better, system is embodied in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, the architect of the new communism. This new economic system, the new social relations it will foster, and the whole new legal and political system that will guide it will be a revolutionary framework that not only guarantees women’s full reproductive freedom starting Day 1, but goes to work at digging up the roots of all forms of misogyny and patriarchy as a key part of emancipating all of humanity all over the world. This is what all those who hate what is being hammered down by these fascists need to join with and make real.

 

Abortion: It’s every woman’s right to choose


According to the latest estimates published in the December issue of The Lancet, in 2015, a staggering 15.6 million abortions occurred in India. Of these 15.6 million abortions, 73% were sought outside health facilities. While unsafe abortions in the country have reduced significantly, about eight lakh women still resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Police officers drive their bicycles past a mural art by Brazilian artist Carlos Bobi in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, January 3, 2018. According to Bobi, the mural represents a special moment of his ex-wife's pregnancy. As in many countries, abortion is a subject of taboo in Brazil
Police officers drive their bicycles past a mural art by Brazilian artist Carlos Bobi in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, January 3, 2018. According to Bobi, the mural represents a special moment of his ex-wife’s pregnancy. As in many countries, abortion is a subject of taboo in Brazil(AP)

Last year, in what is considered a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that individual privacy is a “guaranteed fundamental right”. The nine-judge bench ruled that the right to privacy is comprised in the right to life and liberty guaranteed in Article 21 of the Constitution. This judgment will have significant implications for the protection of citizens’ personal freedom against intrusions by the State. While the furore about privacy and its breach began with the linking of Aadhaar numbers with various programmes, the judgment addressed several other issues that the bench believed came under the ambit of privacy. Recognising a woman’s prerogative to make decisions about her health and body, the bench ruled that “there is no doubt that a woman’s right to make reproductive choices is also a dimension of ‘personal liberty’ as guaranteed under Article 21. It is important to recognise that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from procreating.” The judgment further states that “a woman’s freedom of choice whether to bear a child or abort her pregnancy are areas which fall in the realm of privacy.”

An extremely progressive and far-reaching judgment, the Supreme Court’s ruling is commendable given the realities on the ground where women are often denied the right to make decisions about their reproductive health. Abortion – a key reproductive choice – is not a right in India. A woman cannot walk into a health facility and demand an abortion with no questions asked. In fact, abortion is provided to her solely at the discretion of the medical provider under certain conditions defined by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, which include substantial risk to the woman’s life or to her physical or mental health, substantial risk to the life of the foetus, pregnancies resulting from contraceptive failure in case of married women, and pregnancies resulting from rape.

Moreover, if a woman wants to terminate her pregnancy in the first trimester, the law requires that she get the consent of one medical practitioner. For terminating a pregnancy second trimester onwards, she needs the consent of two medical practitioners. This is particularly difficult for a woman in remote locations where it can often be challenging to find even one medical practitioner.

Additionally, women in India still experience provider bias, especially if they are unmarried and seek an abortion. Contrary to the provisions of the MTP Act, many providers also continue to ask for the husband’s consent before performing an abortion, thus undermining a woman’s choice to make that decision herself.

According to the latest estimates published in the December issue of The Lancet, in 2015, a staggering 15.6 million abortions occurred in India. Of these 15.6 million abortions, 73% were sought outside health facilities. While unsafe abortions in the country have reduced significantly, about eight lakh women still resort to unsafe means to end an unwanted pregnancy.

In light of the judgment on privacy, a multi-pronged approach needs to be adopted to ensure that no woman resorts to unsafe means and methods to terminate a pregnancy because she is unable to access safe abortion services. At the policy level, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, must be amended to allow women to receive abortion on request, which, in turn, could increase access to safe abortion care.

This should simultaneously be supported by efforts to build awareness and educate women and the community on their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including their right to access safe abortion care. More importantly, we must sensitise our healthcare providers and implementers of the law to recognise a woman’s right to reproductive choice, privacy and dignity and to provide services free of bias and judgment.

While the right to privacy is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions, it is nonetheless a fundamental right, not a statutory or a common law right. The State should take steps to ensure that a woman’s right to reproductive choices is mainstreamed and embedded in the public health agenda. They must urgently reassess and amend the laws that impact sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) in India, especially the MTP Act.

If a woman so chooses to, she should be able to access abortion on request at any point within the legal gestation limit.

It must be ensured that SRH services and policies, including those for abortion, are designed in a manner that takes into account a woman’s reproductive choice, protects her privacy and dignity and enables her to lead a full and productive life.

Soli Sorabjee, Former Attorney General of India

 

Bombay HC allows woman to abort 27-week foetus with abnormalities


India’s Medical Termination of the Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, permits pregnancies to be terminated up to 20 weeks, but courts make exceptions keeping in mind woman’s physical health.

Kanchan Chaudhari
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
The Bombay High Court ruling, by a division bench of Justice RM Borde and Justice Rajesh Ketkar, was not made on exceptional grounds but on a very liberal interpretation of the law.
The Bombay High Court ruling, by a division bench of Justice RM Borde and Justice Rajesh Ketkar, was not made on exceptional grounds but on a very liberal interpretation of the law.(HT File Photo)

In a liberal and progressive interpretation of the Medical termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, the Bombay High Court on Tuesday allowed a woman to terminate her 27-week pregnancy, taking into consideration the physical and mental trauma she would suffer if the child was born with severe abnormalities.

The foetus she is carrying has severe abnormalities.

India’s Medical Termination of the Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, permits pregnancies to be terminated up to 20 weeks, but courts make exceptions beyond 20 weeks after a board of doctors confirms continuing the pregnancy is a risk to the woman’s physical health. In this case, the board that examined the woman said there was no risk to her life.

That put the high court bench in a bind. It could have allowed a termination under two conditions: under Section 5 of the law to save the woman’s life (irrespective of the pregnancy duration) or under Section 3(2), if the pregnancy is not more than 20 weeks old, if it poses grave injury to the woman’s physical or mental health, if there are chances of the baby being handicapped, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or contraceptive failure.

To be sure, there have been instances of courts permitting termination of pregnancies that are older, but these have been exceptions.

The Bombay High Court ruling, by a division bench of Justice RM Borde and Justice Rajesh Ketkar, was not made on exceptional grounds but on a very liberal interpretation of the law. The bench said Sections 3 and 5 were required to be construed harmoniously with the object of the enactment.

“If conditions laid down in sub-Section 2(b) of Section 3 of the (MTP) Act are fulfilled, it would provide good ground for exercise of Section 5 of the Act,” said the bench.

Specifically, the bench took note that Section 5 of the law uses words specifically excluding the limitation set out by Section 3 and that, therefore, the emergency clause in Section 5 could be invoked irrespective of the length of the pregnancy.

Besides, it said, the construction would also be in tune with the proposed amendment to the MTP Act, which seeks to extend by four weeks the limit of 20 weeks set out in Section 3.

The MTP (Amendment) Bill 2014 proposes to relax the upper limit of legal abortion from 20 to 24 weeks and make access easier by widening the provider base by training auxiliary nurse midwives (ANMs), nurses, and AYUSH practitioners to terminate early-stage non-surgical pregnancies; introduce a confidentiality cause; and remove the need for a doctor’s second opinion for second-trimester pregnancies.

http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/bombay-hc-allows-woman-to-abort-27-week-foetus-with-abnormalities/

What’s wrong with India’s abortion laws?


GenderAnd Development: The tricky debate on Abortion: Where the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act conflicts with two other laws?

Nandini Rathi

 

This August, the denial of abortion to the 10-year-old rape survivor from Chandigarh by the Supreme Court made headlines, shocking the country and leaving the medical community split in opinion. While the young girl has been recuperating at home from her C-section delivery and from what could only have been mental and physical trauma, the onslaught of women and girls seeking permissions for late-term abortion to High Courts and the Supreme Court continues. On November 22, PTI reported that a 12-year old rape survivor from Khargone, Madhya Pradesh gave birth under C-section after her abortion plea was rejected by the High Court, citing her age and risk, earlier in September. This little girl’s pregnancy had been first discovered more than three months ago in August. While it was then just over 20 weeks, following the letter of law, abortion had been treated a foregone option and denied.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 permits abortions after consultation with one doctor up to 12 weeks. Between 12 to 20 weeks, medical opinion of two doctors is required. Further, only a registered allopathic physician in a registered facility is authorised to conduct the procedure. Beyond the 20 weeks ceiling, exceptions are legally permissible only if continuation of pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life.

The 46-year-old law has been under fire from doctors and lawyers for failing to move ahead with the times. There are several issues. The gestational age limit of 20 weeks on abortions is today understood as arbitrary and grossly outdated by gynaecologists and obstetricians across the board. Rare foetal abnormalities can be detected via ultrasound only around this period and the mother is usually past the 20-week milestone by the time these can be confirmed. Further, the Act does not recognise a woman’s choice in asking for an abortion, as legally she remains at the disposal of a physician’s judgment even in the early stages of pregnancy.

THE INFLUX OF COURT PETITIONS 

While MTP Act itself does not direct anyone to approach the court for permission to terminate pregnancy post-20 weeks, the recent few years have seen a rush of court petitions seeking permission for abortion. Often these have been either rape survivors with unwanted pregnancies or couples who found out about foetal abnormalities that are either incompatible with survival or posed the risk of substantial handicap to the baby upon birth. The curious aspect is why these cases are suddenly coming to court with increasing frequency only now, despite the fact that the MTP law is unchanged, and issues of foetal abnormalities as well as rape-related unwanted pregnancies in minors are something doctors have always dealt with in professional capacity.

“If you ask any obstetrician in this country who has practised for 10-20 years, you will find that they have always terminated pregnancies of advanced [post 20 weeks] durations on obstetric and medical grounds,” says Dr. Nozer Sheriar, former Chairperson of the MTP Committee and secretary general at Federation of Gynaecologists and Obstetrician Societies of India (FOGSI).

Advance prenatal diagnoses, which enable foetal abnormalities to be discovered typically between 20-24 weeks, became routine around two decades ago. Managing the aftermath was not considered by most gynaecologists as traditional MTPs. Until a few years ago, most gynaecologists all over the country were managing abnormal patient pregnancies, along with termination if needed by taking a medical call over the matter, after counselling the patient and with her written permission.

The gynaecologist/obstetrician of the patient maybe in the best position to make a medical decision based on risk, in some cases. But the Supreme Court and High Court judgments over the last few years have been inconsistent and ad-hoc on these matters; they have both permitted as well as turned down various women requesting abortions and hence now doctors are unsure about their decision-making territory. “Because of all these cases coming up, physicians are also confused as to whether to term them as MTPs or obstetric decisions. I think clarity is urgently needed in this matter,” says Dr. Jaydeep Tank, a Mumbai-based gynaecologist and obstetrician and Deputy Secretary General of FOGSI. He personally feels that such cases should not strictly fall under the MTP Act as they could interfere with the obstetrician’s decision making.

ABORTION LAW, ITS RUN-IN WITH POCSO

A pregnant minor, under the MTP Act, can legally receive an abortion with the consent of a legal guardian. Under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act 2012, any sexual activity under the age of 18, even if consensual, comes under the scrutiny of law. Thus, if any adolescent goes to a doctor seeking any services related to reproductive health, including abortion, the doctor is mandatorily required to report that to the authorities. So while MTP Act regulations lay down a careful confidentiality procedure for the doctor to protect the identity of the abortion-seeking girl, POCSO on the other hand necessitates disclosure to the authorities. “A lot of 17-year-olds, who would have gone to a doctor because that would have been the right way to get an abortion, suddenly now think ‘if I go to the doctor, the police will be informed. So maybe I am better off somewhere else’,” Dr. Sheriar explains.

The situation has became more dire, after the Supreme Court last month got rid of the exception for child brides and increased the age of consent to 18, regardless of marital status. While the intention behind the POCSO provision is well meaning, an estimated 47 percent of women in India are still married under the age of 18 and hence considerable sexual activity does take place among minors. The conflict between the laws results in a collateral damage where adolescents may be forced to turn to unsafe abortions.

ABORTION LAW AND SEX DETERMINATION

Another law that trips doctors from performing genuine abortions is the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act of 1994 (PC-PNDT) which criminalises sex determination of the foetus during ultrasound. Often, law-enforcing authorities feel that if they indiscriminately crackdown on abortions in general, they will be able to prevent sex-selective ones and female foeticide, Dr. Tank explains.

With a lot of attention and pressure from authorities due to PC-PNDT, doctors are wary and not doing what they initially did with a clear conscience, says Dr. Sheriar. As one senior gynaecologist running a private hospital said, “Even though I have performed an abortion for a genuine reason, in case the aborted foetus turns out to be a female, who would want to get caught up in a cycle of giving explanations in government offices” or worse, risk having their establishment discredited over such an accusation.

Given the present circumstances, doctors feel that urgent clarifications are required on the matter because when providers of safe and legal abortions turn women away, the remaining gap is filled by unqualified persons and quacks. “Just because of a fear of misuse, creating no mechanism and giving no relief to genuine people is wrong,” says gynaecologist and health rights activist Dr. Nikhil Datar.

Only a handful of women–make it to the courts, where they currently face additional trauma due to delays of legal proceedings, all the while with a pregnancy that is steadily advancing. Asked what happens to all the other women and where they go, Dr. Datar says, “No one knows”.

IN COLD STORAGE: MTP ACT OF 2014

A historic abortion legislation like India’s MTP Act in the 70s ensured that only law and medical opinion, as opposed to any religious dogma, prevailed in matters of pregnancy terminations. It also necessitated the consent of the pregnant woman alone, assuming she was a major. But a progressive law alone did not guarantee access to safe abortions. 10 women die everyday in India due to unsafe abortions and many more suffer from complications as a result of it.

“The cases that have come to the courts and in the spotlight of media are in the direction of foetal abnormalities and rape pregnancies. But that is a very small percentage out of all women deprived of safe abortions,” says Vinoj Manning, Executive Director of Delhi based non-profit Ipas Development Foundation. Currently, 50 percent of all abortions performed in India are estimated to put women’s health and lives to undue risk and that is above all due to an acute shortage of trained providers. This is one of the issues that the MTP Act Amendment bill, proposed in 2014, aimed to solve by authorizing AYUSH doctors, trained nurses and auxiliary nurse-midwives (ANMs) – after mandatory training — for performing non-surgical abortions via pills. The bill is however in cold storage and not taken up by the parliament since October 2014.

In addition to the fact that a woman’s right to abortion is a necessary condition for her reproductive autonomy, there is also a dire need to keep the woman’s needs at the center from a public health perspective. As Dr. Suneeta Mittal, Director and HOD in Obstetrics & Gynaecology at Fortis Medical Research Institute Gurgaon, who has worked in women’s healthcare for nearly 40 years, said in a recent panel discussion, “No legal barrier, no religious barrier, no administrative barrier and no political barrier can stop a woman from getting an abortion, if she decides not to continue [her pregnancy]. By refusing her, you are pushing her towards unsafe abortions”.

SOURCE-  Indian Express

Himachal HC allows rape survivor to abort 32-week fetus


Anand Bodh| TNN |

Representative ImageRepresentative Image
SHIMLA: The Himachal Pradesh high court has allowed abortion of a 32-week-old fetus of a 19-year-old rape survivor, who has mild to moderate mental retardation.

A division bench of Justice Dharam Chand Chaudhary and Justice Vivek Singh Thakur directed the medical superintendent of Kamla Nehru Hospital in Shimla to arrange for termination of the teenager’s pregnancy under supervision of a medical board constituted by the court.

The law allows medical abortion till 20 weeks of pregnancy, unless mother’s life is at risk. The Supreme Court had in July denied permission to a 10-year-old rape survivor to terminate her 32-week pregnancy, but had recently made exception and allowed abortion at 24 weeks due to life threatening condition.

The bench also directed the hospital to preserve the DNA of the fetus so that it could be used during the course of investigation, inquiry and trial in the rape case registered in Kullu district.

On October 6, the court had directed that the petitioner be examined by a medical board, comprising at least five doctors and headed by head of the department of gynaecology of any of the state-level hospitals.

SC allows two rape victims to abort, orders preservation of fetus for DNA test to help nail accused


TNN |

HIGHLIGHTS

  • The bench directed preservation of the terminated fetus for DNA sampling during the investigation
  • SC medical expense of process of termination of pregnancy would be borne by the respective states

Representative photoRepresentative photo

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Thursday permitted two minor girls to terminate their pregnancies caused by rapes and added a new dimension by ordering preservation of the foetuses to help nail the accused during the sexual assault case trial.

One is a 13-year-old from Delhi and another a 17-year-old from Bengaluru and both are rape survivors. A bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Amitava Roy and A M Khanwilkar ordered termination of their pregnancies, which were beyond the permissible period of 20 weeks under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

The Delhi girl will undergo the MTP in AIIMS on Friday and the Bengaluru girl will terminate her pregnancy in Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI). The court directed AIIMS and the Karnataka government to bear the expense of the medical procedures required for termination of the pregnancies and food and medicines required by the girls.

Counsel in the two cases — Nikhil Nayyar and Divyesh Pratap Singh — requested the court that since both the pregnancies were caused by sexual assault, it would be helpful if the aborted foetuses were preserved for DNA test to assist the prosecution in nailing the guilt of the accused.

SC passed the orders after medical boards in AIIMS and BMCRI recommendation.

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