-By Anuja Chandramouli
Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old when she died of septicaemia or blood poisoning after miscarrying the four – month old foetus. Her doctors chose to strictly adhere to the letter of the law of a predominantly Catholic Ireland if not its spirit and refused to perform an abortion while there was still a foetal heartbeat. Soon the baby and the mother were dead and the tragedy has set off a powder keg of protests against restrictions on abortion. One of the most controversial and polarizing subjects in the world is being revisited and a furious debate is currently in process.

The abortion debate has long sought to establish the rights and wrongs of deliberately terminating a foetus, before it can be carried to term. There are those who believe that abortion should be banned completely while others believe

that it should be legalized as it is an individual’s private choice and the government and the rest of petty society ought to refrain from sticking their noses in. The third, oft neglected side of the coin is that there should be certain regulations in order to stop people being people and making frivolous or reprehensible choices where the foetus is concerned and abortion should be permitted only in certain unique cases. This stand taken by moderates seems to be the best choice but it is not without its concerns.

At various points of time in different societies around the world, abortion has been condoned for certain unique cases. For instance, if a mother’s health is endangered or if her mental health has been impaired making her unfit to run the lifelong marathon that is motherhood, abortion would be the logical decision. Also if the pregnancy is the result of a crime like rape, incest, or child abuse the argument has been successfully made for such pregnancies to be terminated. In cases, where the child’s future is ascertained to be of an unacceptable quality as a result of birth defects such as physical deformities, brain damage leading to stunted mental growth, or other genetic defects, abortion has been recognized as an acceptable solution.

Some of the more moderate opponents, have allowed that abortion for the sake of a mother’s well being may not be a major moral transgression. However, abortion for other personal, social or practical reasons has been traditionally frowned upon. Feminists have long argued that a woman’s body is her own and that the decision to keep or abort a baby is entirely her own prerogative and any attempts on the part of the government to control this decision is a gross violation of her constitutional rights. Women who opt for abortions have cited varied reasons for their decisions ranging from bad timing since having a child might sound the death knell on their career aspirations, and financial constraints to an unwillingness or inability to raise the child as a single parent. Opponents of abortion have been known to be virulent in their condemnation of such choices and they have accused those who make this decision of selfishness, crass carelessness and having a scant disregard for the life of an unborn child. An argument along these lines usually boils down to those who are pro – choice and those who are pro – life. The fact that opinions are divided as to when a foetus may be considered as a real person as opposed to a bunch of cells makes the issue even more tricky. Some have stated that the cells in question go on to become real people whereas other have insisted that cells are just cells while they are just cells and ought to be treated as such.

Proponents of abortion also point to certain social reasons such as grinding poverty or extreme youth that could prevent a mother from raising a child to be a useful member or an asset to society. If such unwanted pregnancies are not terminated, the child raised under the circumstances could as a direct result of inadequate means and neglect grow up to be a burden to society and swell the ranks of the teeming mass of societal misfits who have been known to rape, loot, and kill to get back at a community that was largely unkind to them. There are countries where abortion is government policy to keep the population size in check and to maintain the quality of its citizens.

Opponents of abortion have looked askance at what they perceive as cold – blooded practicality that would allow a pregnancy to be terminated on spurious grounds like disability, or the manipulation of population. They have risen up in arms against this kind of thinking calling it criminal behavior and a serious breach of human rights. The belief that it is okay to go through with an abortion in the case of any kind of birth defect is offensive to those who suffer from disability and is a form of discrimination against the handicapped runs the argument. As for government policy that seeks to regulate the population, it is opined that this is the sort of belief that is likely to spawn genocide on a large scale of the type made infamous by Adolf Hitler. It has also been pointed out that great evils like sex selective abortions become commonplace it abortion is not banned entirely.

In countries like India, female infanticide has become a massive cause for concern. Despite laws against sex – selective abortion, unscrupulous doctors and heartless parents have persisted in finding ways to beat the system and the result is that the practice of aborting foetuses that would have grown to be baby girls has reached epidemic proportions. Girl babies are unwanted for a number of social as well as economical reasons and the result is an increasingly skewered sex ratio that poses fresh problems for the country.

Abortion has become one of the most hotly debated subjects in history and a universal consensus has become highly improbable if not impossible. Savita’s tragic demise has reopened a can of worms but a solution that is practical, compassionate, feasible and morally sound continues to remain elusive. In the meantime, the lives of women and unborn children continue to be at stake. Sometimes it sucks to be human.

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