'When it comes to sexual health, docs are a problem'

Jayna Kothari, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court of India, speaks at a panel discussion on "Sexual Reproductive Rights in India," in Bengaluru on April 15, 2019.

Moralising doctors are a nightmare for Indian women seeking abortions, according to women lawyers and legal experts — both of whom said the fraternity was an impediment in the fight for women’s reproductive rights. 

Speaking to Deccan Herald on the sidelines of a panel discussion on ‘Sexual Reproductive Rights in India’ here on Monday, women lawyers explained that a few women are able to obtain a state-sanctioned abortion in courts because of “jaded reports” from doctors often recommending against the procedure.

Meenaz Kakalia, a human rights lawyer practicing in the Bombay High Court, said that while the right to abortion is framed as an issue of the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, it is rarely viewed in that manner.

“The right is seen as a way to balance gender, but by limiting women’s right to abortion, their role in society is being regulated. A woman should never have to justify the reason for why she is seeking an abortion,” Meenaz said.

Jayna Kothari, a senior advocate in the Supreme Court, demanded to know why no politicians are raising women’s rights as a campaign issue during elections. “Women should come together to demand greater rights,” she said.

What the law says

According to the law, women seeking abortions should first be cleared by an examining doctor. But many of these requests are rejected by the courts, owing to reports by doctors.

Meenaz cited a recent case of marital rape in the Bombay High Court as an example. In the case, the victim sought to abort the baby as she didn’t want it. “The court rejected her case,” she said.

In all cases, it is the medical judgment of doctors that sways court judgements. However, many women complain that doctors themselves are judgmental, said Jayna. “If you are poor or from a different religion, if you are not married or divorced, if you don’t have children, it is hard for you to get access to medical care with regard to sexual health,” she said.

“The high-minded moralising by doctors is not limited to abortions,” said Jasmine George, co-founder, NGO Hidden Pockets.

She said as an unmarried woman, it is difficult for her to get contraceptives from doctors who demand to know why she does not have a husband.

“Any unmarried woman who goes to a doctor is subject to this treatment,” 31-year-old Jasmine said.

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'When it comes to sexual health, docs are a problem'

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