Introduction: In modern India when we are talking about women empowerment, the entitlement to reproductive rights and reproductive health care of women it goes a long way in establishing and upgrading the status of women. Legal protection to a woman’s reproductive rights ensures that she can no longer be treated as a chattel or a source to bear children with no preferred choices of her own.
A woman’s right to make reproductive choices includes the woman’s right to refuse participation in sexual activity or alternatively the insistence on use of contraceptive methods- such as undergoing sterilization procedures, a woman’s entitlement to carry a pregnancy to its full term, to give birth and subsequently raise children. Today, a woman is highly educated and may have professional obligations. This brings about the need to have a mechanism that lets her choose when to become a parent and to adopt various technological advancements coming up medically which help her to save her gametes for future use and going for cosmetic gynecology to feel young and capable to enjoy sexual activity which she may have been deprived of because of various reasons including ageing and reproduction.
The right to reproductive health care is multi dimensional when compared to old school of thought, which relates to bearing progeny. Though, the reproductive rights/ health care do not have a separate expression in the list of fundamental rights of the Constitution of India, they form an integral part of ARTICLE 14 (RIGHT TO EQUALITY) and Article 21 (RIGHT TO LIFE AND LIBERTY) of the Constitution. In nutshell, there is a constitutional protection to the reproductive rights of a woman. Now, the larger question is- what is the extent of such constitutional protection? Do we have laws and policies in place ensuring such entitlements? Has the law been able to cope with the recent medical advancement in the field of reproductive health care? The Indian Scenario is very challenging as we have a huge gap in social awareness and societal norms are still very patriarchal.
Legal protection to various Reproductive Rights:
As per a reproductive health survey, India accounts for 20% of maternal deaths worldwide. About 75% of these deaths can be prevented with access to family planning services and emergency obstetric care. About 18000 women in India die out of unsafe abortions and out of which 1/5th of the pregnancies are unwanted or unplanned.
Here are some of the other issues which women face when it comes to pregnancy and reproductive liberty.
Coercive family planning.
Sex education and information.
Gender Based discrimination.
Infertility Concerns including Surrogacy and Assisted reproduction.
Human trafficking and abuse
At present we have the following laws, which protect the reproductive rights of a woman to a certain extent.
Medical termination of pregnancy act. This gives protection to right to abortion in certain conditions and it also protects forceful abortions. The scope of this act needs widening as beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, it makes abortion nearly impossible and often women who are victims of rape wish to terminate pregnancy after 20 weeks are left helpless.
Child marriage restraint act. This act makes child marriages punishable. However, child marriage is still considered legal by many in India. Marrying a girl at such a young age is against her basic right to equality and freedom to choose a partner of her own choice and thus against her reproductive rights.
Maternity Benefit act: The maternity benefit act provides for paid maternity leave for the women workers in an organization. However, it is also felt that maternity leave has not been able to retain women force, as eventually most of the women have to leave jobs to take care of the child.
Pre conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic techniques act (PCPNDT) prohibits sex selection. However, this act has so far failed to curb the menace of female feticide.
Marital Rapes: so far under law there is no express provision where in a woman can say ‘No” to sex. Marital rape has not gained any legal sanctity. So much so, family planning and right spacing between children have also miserably failed in some strata of society.
Infertility Laws such as surrogacy and assisted reproduction have no or little awareness. Surrogacy has been looked down upon and even been compared to prostitution. Legal bodies must impart the proper and rightful education and effective legal machinery to reap the rightful advantages of medical advancements.
Fertility Preservation: In the West, companies like Google and Apple have asked their female employees to preserve their oocytes so that the same can be utilized if later, having established themselves, they wish to become a parent, This can be done whenever and the woman doesn’t have to worry about her biological clock ticking away. But in India, though these procedures exist, there are no laws to regulate the same.
Sex Education is still a taboo in major parts of India and not made compulsory as part of educational curriculum. It is imperative to make every woman understand the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, reproduction, contraception and social fabric of the country and the limits one has to set for oneself.
Coercive Family Planning including sterilization should not be done forcefully. The government medical infrastructure needs a huge support to prevent maternal deaths. Education about other means of contraception should be taken up as a mass level project.
To look beautiful means to feel beautiful and maintain one’s body parts as per one’s desire. Cosmetic gynecology is will not only help in surgical correction but also rejuvenation of sexual wellbeing.
In short, there is still a lot to happen in terms of advancements where law has to catch up and ensure that reproductive rights of a woman gets autonomy and includes both active rights and sexual well being as well.