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US abortion ban a red flag for democracies. Women must take control of their bodies back

Campus Voice is an initiative by ThePrint where young Indians get an opportunity to express their opinions on a prevalent issue.

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The 24 June American Supreme Court judgment took the world by storm. The landmark Roe v Wade judgment was struck down by a 6 out of 9 majority ruling which took away the women’s constitutional right to abortion in the US. In a single blow, women suddenly lost access to their bodies and reproductive freedom.

The effect of overturning Roe v Wade is not just limited to American society. I fear that it may strengthen the voices of anti-abortionists, stoke male domination, and increase the gulf between the two genders. This judgment is a red flag for the democratic substance of our contemporary world as much cannot be said about a democracy that rolls back a liberal constitutional right.

The world as we know it today stands at a fraught juncture. The fight over abortion is much more than ideological warfare. Every debate, every judgment boils down to a basic question, “Are women really masters of their own bodies?”

Given the present scenario, I’m afraid that the answer remains gloom-ridden. This regressive US Supreme Court decision cements State incursion into women’s rights. It’s not simply a pro-choice or pro-life debate, rather its ethos lies in the fact that women, even today, have limited control over their lives.

We are entering an era of not just unsafe abortions but that of a widespread criminalisation of pregnancies. As a young woman, these developments are scary and anger me a lot.

Also read: India and US went pro-choice around the same time. Only one strengthened its abortion laws

The Indian story

In India, let alone the right to choose, a woman’s say in the use of contraceptives is a grey area. This has been crystallised in the NFHS-5 survey, which revealed that almost 50 per cent of the Hindi heartland males feel that contraceptives are a woman’s business. They are not onboard with the idea of using condoms as they feel uncomfortable and, for them, it makes intercourse less pleasurable. The obvious consequences of such actions are unplanned pregnancies, forced motherhood, and deterioration of the mental and reproductive health of a female.

Though the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 has legalised abortions in India, it is imperative to realise that even the Indian Act completely omits the idea of ‘choice’. Only situational reasons are labeled as valid and they too are limited to certain cases.

Campaigns like Beti Bachao Beti Padhao should be incentivised with renewed vigour. It’s high time the State acts as a facilitator towards positive change in the plight of women.

Also read: Who was Jane Roe of Roe v Wade? What overturning of the 1973 judgment means for American women

The impact of judgment

Years ago, Friedrich Engels, an eminent sociologist, wrote, “The overthrow of mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.” This, Engels said, was the collective defeat of womanhood. These thoughts are so relevant in the present times.

Be it education, policies, job market, and even birth, women have always been treated as second-class citizens. The heinous crime of rape emerged as a tool to discipline and control a woman. Male-child preference, wife-beating, sexual harassment, denial of education, sexist outlook, and wage-pay difference are markers of the 21st century globalised world.

Women’s subordination transcends every barrier of language, nationality, and creed and is a virulent phenomenon. Humanity is at its all-time low with almost half of its population being discriminated against in some form or the other.

The battle of mentality is the hardest to fight. We need to understand that a woman’s body is her own personal business. Above all, statuary measures to facilitate such positive changes can be the cherry on the top. Though it’s a long journey, all hope is not lost as the very basic premise of a democratic setup is its citizens’ choice and women know how to raise their voice and fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Above all, awareness holds the key to change. Optimum use of social media can also help politicise Gen Z and normalise equal treatment. This is our basic right and we are entitled to it.

The author is a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women, University of Delhi. Views are personal

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