India: Abortion is a difficult, personal choice, not a tricky debate (Aruna Papp)

FEATURE: Abortion is a difficult, personal choice, not a tricky debate: India
26 August 2016

OPINION: Abortion is a tricky debate, by K Kannan

On 3 August, a Campaign member from CommonHealth in India wrote to say that a very disturbing article had appeared in The Hindu about women's right to abortion having to be balanced against the right to life of the fetus. The article, entitled "A tricky debate on abortion", was by K Kannan, former Justice of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, the same court that in 2015, rejected the plea of the father of a 14-year-old rape survivor to allow termination of her 24-week pregnancy (see Campaign newsletter, 3 August).  The article expresses opposition to extending the legal time limit for abortion from 20 to 24 weeks for certain grounds. The author bases his arguments on his religious views, his interpretation of fetal rights, disagreement with allowing women's autonomy to decide, and his views on disability in relation to abortion.

The Hindu illustrated the article, as many conservative news sites unfortunately do, with a photograph of a very pregnant woman's belly, probably as much as 8 months pregnant, minus her face, thus contributing to two common, but mistaken, beliefs – first, that abortions take place that late in pregnancy and second, that a fetus has an independent existence from the woman who is carrying it.

Although we do not reprint the article here, it is well worth reading in full as it is unusually complex for an anti-abortion argument, requiring an equally complex response. Read it here.

The article was followed by 29 comments. Here is perhaps the most interesting one: "I am shocked to hear a lawyer argue for laws based on religion in a country that is struggling to get a uniform civil code." (Vijayalakshmi Fernandes) Two other respondents mentioned the death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian dentist who was living in Ireland, who was left to die from sepsis in a Catholic hospital that refused to terminate the pregnancy following an inevitable miscarriage at 17 weeks of pregnancy.

RESPONSE: Abortion is a difficult, personal choice, not a tricky debate

The response from CommonHealth and others was published by The Hindu on 11 August 2016. The Hindu entitled it "A question of rights" while its authors entitled it "Abortion is a difficult, personal choice, not a tricky debate". The news site illustrated this article with a transparent pregnant belly, with only the outline showing, containing a fully-formed cartoon baby with an enlarged head, which is seated, with its feet crossed, its elbow propped on its knee and its fist propping up its head, eyes closed, frowning. A more inappropriate image would be hard to imagine.

Here is their response in full:

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Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion