Jindal-Ipas Joint Consultation Deliberates on Safe Abortion and Women’s Reproductive Rights

The Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology (CHLET), Jindal Global Law School (JGLS) in collaboration with Ipas Development Foundation held a one-day consultation on access to safe abortion for minor girls with a special focus on The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) on the 12th of November 2016 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.

Speaking about the contradictions between The Medical Termination Of Pregnancy( MTP )Act and the POCSO Act, , Ms. Dipika Jain, Associate Professor Jindal Global and Associate Dean and Executive Director Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology, Jindal Global Law School said, “all pregnant minors are treated as survivors of rape and other pre-existing notion associated with pre-marital sex and abortion related stigma force many minor girls to seek abortion from unapproved service provider outside the mainstream health system. This is a matter of grave concern and needs urgent redressal.”

Ms. Medha Gandhi, Director-Policy, Ipas Development Foundation, India, one of the collaborators of this initiative discussed the problems with access to safe abortion services, she said, “we hear incidents where women especially minor girls are denied safe abortion services very often quoting reporting requirements under POCSO as being very complicated. If she is denied access at public facility or approved private facility, she is likely to reach a backstreet provider who in all likelihood is not going to provide safe abortion services since most of these back street service providers are not trained and equipped for the same.

On this occasion, Professor Upendra Baxi, noted legal scholar and former Vice Chancellor of Delhi University released a report, “Abortion Laws in India: Review of Court Cases in India” prepared by the Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology with support from Ipas Development Foundation.

Welcoming the participants Professor (Dr.) C Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor, O.P. Jindal Global University said “We need to look at how policy reform takes place within the contours of power and should work towards consistently speaking truth to power. In our country, dialogue that ought to take place between government agency and non-government organization, academic institutions, civil society and other stakeholders are acrimonious and confrontational, which unfortunately does not lead to a collaborative effort on number of issues.” 

Professor (Dr.) C. Raj Kumar also stressed upon this initiative as a part of a larger project which would bring together a sharper focus on the functioning of institutions in relation to sensitivity and approach towards addressing some of the more important issues including equality and gender justice.

Asserting on the importance of fundamental women’s rights, Professor Upendra Baxi, Former Vice Chancellor Delhi University said “It’s a common battle, it’s a global battle, it is a question of women’s reproductive freedom and rights. It is not just a local, national or regional battle. It is global war for women’s equality”

In his discourse, Professor Baxi stressed on the fact that time has come that Article 21 of the Constitution of India, should recognize the Right to Reproductive Freedom and Right to abortion at will on request.

Another strong voice in this space, Ms. Seema Misra Advocate, Delhi District Courts and founder-member of Association of Advocacy and Legal Initiatives(AALI) opined, ”there is a great contradiction in the law, POCSO Act is to prevent sexual abuse, it is an absurdity because it criminalises all sexual activity below 18, is not in sync with time.”

Elaborating further she said “when it comes to government hospitals mandatory reporting poses many operational and access related challenges. The law requires reporting of rape immediately where as the primary concern should be medical assistance.” 

“She was very vocal about sexual right and was of critical of interpretation of The POCSO Act and asserted that “all sexual activity under 18 cannot be termed illegal or rape”

Echoing similar thought, Ms. Asha Bajpai, Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences pointed out that in most international laws like of Australia, Albania or Canada there is no absolute time limit on the period within which medical termination of pregnancy may be conducted. She said “it is dealt with on a case to case basis. Abortion should be the woman’s decision not doctors’.”

The engaging session saw many interesting debates, which brought out multiple perspectives on this raging issue.

The day long deliberations culminated in a brainstorming session focused on abortion and how it impacts the health of minor girls.  There is an urgent need for legal reforms.

About Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology (CHLET)

CHLET undertakes research on issues at the intersection of health, sexuality and gender, law, power and society. CHLET adopts a multidisciplinary approach and focuses particularly on access to drugs, health and sexuality, sexual minority rights, gender minority rights, reproductive rights, realisation of a constitutional right to health and implications of advancement in technology on access to healthcare. CHLET seeks to foster informed dialogue among various stakeholders including policymakers, lawyers, activists, and the medical industry and profession.

About Ipas Development Foundation, India

Ipas India is a non-profit organization that works across the country to increase women’s ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, especially the right to safe abortion. Ipas India seeks to eliminate unsafe abortion and the resulting deaths and injuries and to expand women’s access to comprehensive abortion care, including contraception and related reproductive health information and care.

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