NEW DELHI: One of the many casualties of decisions made by men in power seems to be motherhood, a concept that has also borne the brunt of abject commercialisation.
In the backdrop of Mothers’ Day observances that had been organised by both public and private institutions last week, week, it is pertinent to look at the concept of motherhood in the context of the times we are living in, how the definition of motherhood has evolved, and more importantly, the challenges that are now being faced by women, with regard to their reproductive rights, and autonomy in matters of family planning.
Over the past few days, a development regarding the aforementioned issue that has cropped up in the US, found its way into headlines in newspapers across the world.
In a few weeks from now, it is being feared that a fundamental right enshrined in a landmark ruling known as the Roe vs Wade judgement is set to be overturned by the US Supreme Court.
The ruling which was made nearly 50 years ago had legalised abortions across the US, and the right could disappear overnight for millions of women in America, if the ruling is overturned.
A leaked document which contained the perspectives of the judges presiding on the ruling has set off a firestorm between pro-choice and pro-life activists.
One might wonder what could be the implication of this judgement regarding abortion being overturned in the US, on women in India. It may be recalled that in 2012, a 31-year-old Indian dentist, who was 17-weeks-pregnant, had died in Ireland due to blood poisoning, after doctors refused to perform an abortion stating that Ireland was a Catholic nation.
Owing to the presence of foetal heartbeat, her requests for a medical termination of pregnancy were denied, after which she succumbed to septicaemia.
The case caused a major outcry not just in the British Isles, but around the world. Six years later in May 2018, voters in Ireland in a historic referendum chose to legalise abortions in the country.
However, unnecessary restrictions are still preventing many women from accessing such vital services in time. Of course, this is not a singular episode as many nations in the world have imposed severe restrictions on the reproductive rights of women.
The Center for Reproductive Rights, a global non-profit and legal advocacy group says that there are 24 countries where abortion is completely prohibited.
These include several countries in Africa as well as a few in Central America and a handful in Asia, such as Iraq, the Philippines and Laos.
Here in India, abortions are permitted as a measure to preserve health or on socioeconomic grounds.
As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, women in India can undergo an abortion upto 20 weeks of pregnancy (24 weeks in special cases involving minors, sexual assault, disability, divorce, foetal malformation or risk to life).
Also, previously only married women were allowed to opt for such a procedure. However, following the MTP Amendment Act of 2021, even unmarried women can seek safe abortion services in the event of a contraceptive failure.
Having said that, there are challenges aplenty as far as the notion of reproductive rights in India is concerned. The nation is home to over 24 million child brides, and as per the National Family Health Survey, 40% of the 60 mn child marriages that take place globally, are held in India.
And the fallout of it is a high maternal and infant mortality rate. Unless such endemic problems are ironed out, both nationally and globally, a celebration of motherhood might at best be a superficial observance.