Coronavirus No Excuse to Snatch Women’s Rights: Access to Medically Supervised Abortions Amid Lockdown

Representative image | Source - Business Standard

The country is presently facing an extended phase of lockdown as an effort to curtail and control the spread of the coronavirus infection and during these weeks of the lockdown many services have been rendered dysfunctional. Within such a context, the question of whether a service can or should be considered essential arises and it becomes extremely important for us to then reexamine the criteria on which such a decision is made. 

In a latest development on the ongoing debate on the availability and unavailability of services during the lockdown, a group of 78 doctors, public health workers, academics and feminist scholars have come together and expressed their concerns regarding women’s inability to access safe abortions amid the lockdown.  

This has become a particularly grave concern for a lot of women amid the lockdown because many non-coronavirus associated medical services have become increasingly inaccessible ever since the pandemic hit and access to safe medical abortions is one among the many issues that women are facing at this time. 

Women’s inability to access medically safe abortions can put their lives at risk and thus the widespread and easy availability of such a service shall be a topmost concern. The country’s hospitals are currently equipping themselves and are eager to only cater to coronavirus patients and there has been a larger suspension of non-emergency procedures in the hospitals of India. Thus to divert the government’s attention to this crucial issue and encourage the broader healthcare system to become more accommodative of women’s needs for safe abortions, they have signed a statement which highlights the problem and invites the government to take immediate action.

In their statement, the 78 signatories have appreciated the recent direction of the Delhi High Court that mandates it for the government to ensure that no pregnant woman and their families are made to experience difficulties in accessing healthcare or treatment even if they reside in coronavirus hotspots. The signatories have urged that the same be made to hold true for women seeking the medical termination of their pregnancies. 

They have also appealed to the government to acknowledge that abortions cannot be considered a non-essential service and neither can they be made a part of the list of non-emergency medical procedures. The statement also gives the example of countries like the United Kingdom, France and Ireland which have made it possible for women to access safe abortions during this time of crisis as well. 

The statement underlines that the coronavirus pandemic cannot be seen as an excuse to deny women their rights.

While it is completely understandable and correct that all non-emergency procedures have been suspended at hospitals in these times of COVID-19. Thus, not only elective plastic surgery procedures, but surgeries such as that for inguinal hernia, or thyroid adenomas have to be postponed. But the context of medical termination of pregnancy is quite unique and it cannot be classified as a non-emergency that is worthy of postponement. 

This is indeed an emergency situation because the woman concerned has a limited amount of time to seek medical supervision and waiting for the pandemic to get over, can cost her even her own life.

This statement also highlights the fact that a large number of women were opting for illegal abortions in the absence of medical facilities and these were exposing them to unprecedented risks and threatening their survival. The statement calls for immediate action in this regard.