Right to information and Safe Abortion - Souvik Pyne

This article was originally published on The ASAP Blog

Abortion is a universal phenomenon occurring throughout recorded history and presumably even beyond that. Thus, abortion is quite a common phenomenon across the globe. When performed safely, it rarely has any complication but when done unsafely, often leads to much morbidity and mortality (every 8 minutes a woman dies of unsafe abortion related complications in the world). Knowledge about safe abortion and contraception along with sex education plays a crucial role in determining the level of interventions applied to avoid unwanted pregnancies and safety of the method women resort to when the need of abortion arises. The entitlement to proper information in this regard has been bolstered in the ICPD (International Conference on Population & Development) Program of Action.

Now let us look into some of the underlying principles for right to information.

First, is the principle of neutrality. It reflects the non-judgemental stance about the issue irrespective of social or legal environment. This is essential in restrictive settings. In liberal settings, the information should emphasize the legality as well its safety and efficacy.

Second, is the humanistic principle. It reflects the concern for health and life beyond any moral or legal implications. This aspect needs to be maximised irrespective of legal status of abortion.

Third, is the pragmatic principle. It implies two dimensions- it is unrealistic to eliminate the need for abortion; safe abortion is a time tested cost-effective intervention. This too needs to be focussed irrespective of the legality in a setting.

Fourth, is the human rights principle. It mandates a state responsible to address issues which create or exacerbate situations which are harmful to health as well as look into the effective implementation of the interventions. In a restrictive setting, it can support ‘harm-reduction’ models but in the long run needs to reiterate to eliminate the causality also i.e. the illegality of abortion.

Thus, right to information is a very strong tool to empower women about ways to control their fertility and enable them to make an informed decision, which is very crucial. It is also the state’s responsibility to ensure realisation of this vital right in its enactment so that it doesn’t end up being only an empty rhetoric.

Reference:

Erdman, J. N. (2011). Access to information on safe abortion: a harm reduction and human rights approach. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender34, 413-462.