Beyond bars, coercion and death: Rethinking abortion rights and justice in India

Authors

DOI:

https://doi.org/10.35295/osls.iisl.1680

Keywords:

Carceral politics, access to safe abortion, fear of prosecution, decriminalization, reproductive justice, Política carcelaria, acceso al aborto seguro, miedo a la persecución, despenalización, justicia reproductiva

Abstract

The legal framework governing abortion in India is, at its core, a cis-hetero-patriarchal framework that regulates pregnant persons' bodies using a punitive criminal justice system. The criminal framework encompasses Sections 312-318 IPC, provisions of the POCSO Act, and the PCPNDT Act, which prescribe significant state surveillance and allow for largely unchecked intimidation by law enforcement of both abortion providers and abortion seekers. Several case laws show the “chilling effect” of criminalization on healthcare providers, leading them to hesitate to provide safe abortion services. The stigma around abortions perpetuated by criminalization, leaves pregnant persons with limited reproductive choices – these include either availing of safe abortions and risking prosecution, availing of unsafe abortions and risking adverse health outcomes, or carrying unwanted pregnancies to term and avoiding prenatal and maternal healthcare. Criminalization disproportionately affects marginalized communities, with examples of legal reform showing carceral approaches' disregard for structural factors affecting certain groups' access to fundamental rights and healthcare services. It is, therefore, imperative to decriminalize abortion completely, framing avenues for redressal within a reproductive justice framework. The proposal to completely abolish penal provisions that govern forced abortions begets concerns about leaving marginalized pregnant persons who frequently experience forced abortions with no legal recourse. This feminist dilemma that ensues requires the adoption of decarceral, intersectional approaches that maintain structures of accountability for harm done, without posing any risk to the rights of marginalized pregnant persons.

El marco jurídico que rige el aborto en India es fundamentalmente una estructura cis-heteropatriarcal, que utiliza un sistema de justicia penal punitivo para controlar los cuerpos de las personas embarazadas. Las secciones 312-318 del Código Penal indio, junto con la ley de Protección de los niños contra los delitos sexuales y la ley de Técnicas de diagnóstico prenatal y antes de la concepción, componen este marco penal, promoviendo una vigilancia estatal que intimida por igual a quienes practican el aborto y a quienes lo solicitan. Los casos judiciales ilustran vívidamente el perjudicial “efecto amedrentador” que tiene la penalización tanto sobre los proveedores de atención sanitaria como sobre quienes buscan abortar. El estigma vinculado a los abortos penalizados limita la autonomía de decisión reproductiva, obligando a las personas a elegir entre procedimientos seguros pero perseguibles, abortos inseguros con riesgos para la salud, o llevar a término embarazos no deseados. Esto afecta de manera desproporcionada a las comunidades marginadas, lo que pone de relieve la inadecuación de los enfoques carcelarios para abordar las barreras estructurales a la realización de los derechos reproductivos. Los activistas piden la despenalización completa, impulsando una transición hacia un marco de justicia reproductiva. La propuesta de abolir por completo las disposiciones penales que regulan los abortos forzados suscita la preocupación de dejar sin recursos legales a las personas embarazadas marginadas que suelen sufrir abortos forzados. El dilema feminista que se plantea exige la adopción de enfoques descarceladores e interseccionales que mantengan las estructuras de rendición de cuentas sin poner en peligro los derechos de las mujeres embarazadas marginadas.

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Author Biography

Dipika Jain, Jindal Global Law School

Dipika Jain, Professor of Law, Vice Dean and Director, Centre for Justice, Law and Society (CJLS), Jindal Global Law School. Email: djain@jgu.edu.in

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Published

01-02-2024

How to Cite

Jain, D. (2024) “Beyond bars, coercion and death: Rethinking abortion rights and justice in India”, Oñati Socio-Legal Series, 14(1), pp. 99–118. doi: 10.35295/osls.iisl.1680.