Monday, August 4, 2008

No choice?

To set the record straight, I am all for a woman's right to choose. The right and the power to abort a fetus must reasonably rest with the woman who has to nurture it and later, raise the baby. Having said that, I do understand the rules which do not allow abortion after a certain time period of pregnancy unless, continuing the pregnancy would harm the mother-to-be. The Niketa Mehta case where a 26 week pregnant woman wants to abort her fetus is an example of the abortion laws flying in the face of their own principle.

Let us examine the principle behind the pro-choice stance. It basically values the life and the well-being of the woman more than that of the unborn child. This makes sense to me, and this is why I am pro-choice myself. However, abortion is not allowed after a certain period of pregnancy, for many reasons. The stated one is that the woman's life could be endangered. One suspects however, that a 25 week old fetus incites a lot more sympathy than a week old morula. That could be another reason for this caveat in the rule. Abortion will still be allowed at such a juncture if the pregnancy is proven to cause danger to the mother. Again, this rule is consistent. It is favoring the life and comfort of the mother.

In Niketa Mehta's case, her gynecologist told her, very late, that her baby could have serious complications. The gynecologist is not able to prove this conclusively or even state this to almost certainty. The Mumbai High Court ruled that she may not be allowed to abort the fetus, as there is no conclusive proof that either the mother or the baby will suffer serious complications.

Usually when I post something in my blog, I am very opinionated, and I rarely sit on the fence. On this one, I am confused. This post is more of an opening to a discussion than a periodic rant.

I think of this in two ways. Firstly, I feel that the court is wrong considering that the legislative intent of the law is to favor the well-being of the mother. If this woman is sure that her baby is going to be born deformed, shouldn't she have the right to abort her baby? This law favors women who forgot to take the morning after pill and then realized weeks later, that they are pregnant! So, when someone has an actual medical reason to abort, why deny her the right? After all, she is aware of the risks of aborting; shouldn't she have the right to assume those risks? Is this not a free society?

But my thoughts go another way too. When I think of the big picture, as I explore the legislative intent of the law, I think that allowing this woman to abort by a mere suggestion of a possible physical deformity in the baby would set a precedent of bending the rules. The fact that abortion is disallowed after a certain period of pregnancy means that there is some consideration to the baby's health. Also, if one argues that the court is considering the mother's health and the possible risks of a late abortion, then it encroaches on the mother's free choice. Either way, there is a higher interference of the court in the mother's choice here.

Personally, there are a lot of social evils today. Abortion is not one of them. It is a personal choice, and when done reasonably, seems like a balanced, smart decision. In this case, however, I am confused as to what would have been the right decision. I understand that the judges had to follow the law, which is black-and-white here. There was no evidence of probable damage to the baby, and the decision is in accordance with the law. One wonders though, whether the law itself needs amendment here?

There is another nagging question in my mind. Did the Mehtas do an amniocentesis test to figure out the sex of the baby? It is illegal in India, but people find ways of doing it. Would we be surprised if, the test was actually done, and it was going to be a girl? I do doubt that these educated well-to-do people would favor a male child, but who knows?


4 comments:

buddy said...

who knows how a mother feels carrying a deformed child in her womb...sad

Laksh said...

first things first, methinks you are being a bit provocative bringing up whether they did an amnio for gender. Your own reportage does not cite that anywhere, .. but on the serious topic you have hit the nail on the head. this is a 'darned' complex question. but it can be addressed, by looking at some simple (are they ever?) facts - what leads the attending physician to suggest that the child has congenital deformities? At 25 weeks, an ultra-sound should be able to identify major physical deformities, amnio, trisomy, and other enzyme tests should all help in making a "certain" diagnosis of lack of deformities.
If such information was presented to the court, and experts for the plaintiff and defendant had their day in the court, then the court does have some say in the matter. Now, while I am also flamingly pro-choice, this is a case of late-term abortion (since it is after 20 wk gestation ) - and there has to be a real medical reason - harm to the baby or the mother to have such drastic measures taken. Only 1% of abortions in the world over, including the more liberal Europe and Canada, take place after 20 wks. In the US, only 0.08% abortions are late-term.

Liberal said...

@laksh
I agree about my wondering being provocative, how can my reportage cite it anywhere. Even if this was done it would not be mentioned as it needs to be hushed up.
On another note, I am glad you appreciate the legal mess this situation has created...one cannot trivialize this issue by making it purely one of woman's rights.

rambuna said...

when a woman has carried the unborn fetus for 26 wks unless there is a damn good reason she will not abort.they would not hv asked court's permission if they were not really concerned for their baby to be born.