The Core of the Abortion Debate

During a friendly discussion about politics, I encountered a question, “what are your views on abortion and how do you think about it from the point of view of the baby.” While the question in itself was kind of ignorant, I knew that this person was genuinely curious and wanted to learn more about the topic.

I am pro choice.

That being said, even if you are pro life or you don’t really have a stand on this topic, you must know that there is no “point of view of the baby” because technically, it is an underdeveloped fetus. It has no sentience, thoughts, or feelings. A beating heart does not equate feelings. Breathing does not equate sentience. And that’s just a fact, it is not an opinion.

So really, there is only the point of view of the mother/pregnant person. And it is because of this fact that I choose to be pro choice. There is only the point of view of the pregnant person and that is why the decision to have an abortion should be left to the pregnant person.

The very idea that the government needs to be involved in such a personal decision, that the decision of the person carrying the pregnancy should be overlooked by those just because of differing ethical beliefs, is absolutely nonsensical to me.

The core of the abortion debate falls back into the infamous question, whether the fetus is alive or not or whether the rights of the fetus can be terminated by the pregnant person.

Personally, I feel like that question has a very obvious answer that some people just don’t want to look at – their vision being tainted by religious or antiquated beliefs and all.

Even though the fetus is “alive” it is not living. It’s brain is so underdeveloped that it cannot even form a shadow of thought, it cannot feel anything, it cannot survive outside the womb – or in other words, it is simply not a human being.

So how can we talk about abortion in terms of the fetus? We cannot. And that is an incredibly simple idea to understand, but just like most simple ideas go (ending racism, sexism, homophobia) the human race takes an inordinately long time to understand them.

The decision to not carry the pregnancy to full term lies solely with the pregnant person and I look forward to the time when this simple fact is more easily understood by more people.

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Do Religious Tendencies Divide or Unite?

While the rape of the eight year old girl from Kathua District has recently been enshrined on social media and had yet again brought forward a surge of youth activists, it has also moved the shrouded nature on Indian secularism. I am not going to talk about the horrible and inhumane acts of the rapists here, but rather on how these acts were defended.

Many supporters of the rapists, and yes it is a very sad truth that every rape story has an undeniable line of people who support the rapist, said that this gang rape was done in the name of religion.

The Hindu-Muslim communal conflict has predated Partition in the Indian society, and many religious extremists treat human bodies as commodities to be conquered in order to establish religious supremacy.

Asifa was drugged and raped in a temple with policemen and priests being the perpetrators. When her body was being taken for burial by her heartbroken parents, they were tantalized by near-by conservative Hindus and were forced to bury their daughter in another a village.

This entire situation really brings up the question whether religious tendencies divide or unite. As an agnostic, I left my belief of religion purely because I did not support an institutionalized form of antiquated ideals that were dictating how I should live my life. And while I do believe that there should be a very clear distinction that separates religion from the state and from how we treat others, I always thought that religion created a community that could bring people together for their own  mental well being.

But when communities like this start taking their freedom and respect from the state for granted, I do start to wonder if the flaw is not in the religious institutions but in the government apparatus.

Religious tendencies have done nothing but divided us in the political arena. While they do unite us in our social lives, we must realize that our religious beliefs have led us to support organizations whose actions we might have otherwise condemned.

When it comes to coming together for the sake of humanity, our wants from our state are the same: we wants our fundamental rights to be respected and ensured. But it is our tenacious grip on religious “morals” that hinders us from giving the same rights to others that we wish to get.

So I stress again on the inherent flaw in my country’s legislative apparatus: the state-controlled secularism. India is secular only within the fading lines of its constitution, but in reality it has been perforated with religious supremacists from our neighboring houses to important offices in the government. What India needs is not another candle march, but a cohesive amendment to its executive bodies.

Ugly

Menstruation isn’t pretty. But that doesn’t mean that it’s something bad or something evil. We, as a society, are increasingly coming together to realize that menstruation is just another bodily function and it shouldn’t be overshadowed by taboos.

Quite recently, I was having a conversation with an acquaintance and he mentioned that abortion is ugly. He said that he had seen some pictures of abortion being performed and they looked ugly and that was the reason he was pro life.

He’s not alone though, many pro life advocates stand insensitivity in front of abortion clinics and throw photos of surgical abortions at women, shouting at them not to “murder” their child.

The fact is, any sort of surgery looks ugly when it’s being performed. Menstruation looks ugly. Even giving birth looks ugly. In photos, they are all bloodied and just something we wouldn’t willingly incorporate into our daily sights. But that doesn’t mean that any of these things are bad and that they should be eradicated or hidden.

I am all for learning the reason behind why certain people choose to be pro life and I appreciate hearing opinions that differ from mine, but more often than not the pro life stance is based on such antiquated and superficial ideals that it really makes me wonder if it’s even worth calling it a movement.

(Photo from Ladybird)

Incantation?

first published at Luna Luna, Incantation, Paakhi Bhatnagar

In medieval societies, women with mental disorders or women exceptionally talented in fields traditionally dominated by men (which at that time were pretty much all work areas) were called witches and donned with robes and crooked noses in the imaginations of the orthodox Christian.

This was particularly common when women and midwives performed abortions on pregnant women against the will of the clergy or the state. These midwives were called witches and burnt at the stake by the state for honoring the choice and bodily autonomy of the pregnant woman.

In this modern age, we are reclaiming the name witches in order to lament the anguish suffered by our sisters for wanting to be treated nothing less than human. We write spells, embodied through poetry, that not only remember our sisters but also remember and put forward their works and beliefs for the younger generation. We are bringing back an infamous culture and shaping it through the eyes of the victim.

This spell that I had written for the beautiful Luna Luna is a memorial of the works of past witches and a call for solidarity and open mindedness in order to face the challenges that await our sisters today.

Repeal the 8th

The 8th constitutional amendment of the Irish constitution restricts the fundamental rights of the pregnancy person, saying that the “unborn child” (fetus) has the right to life that is equal to the life of the mother. Besides the fact that this amendment fails to recognize non-binary pregnant people and trans men, it also breaches the pregnant person’s right to full bodily autonomy.

Repeal the 8th is a movement initiated to repeal this amendment through the referendum held by the current government of Ireland. This moment seeks to give back the rights to pregnant people that were snatched away by a largely conservative, male, and Catholic legislating body.

To all those who want to #repealthe8th, and to all those who trust woman and doctors and face the realities – you need to play your part. Oireachtas can pass legislation for a referendum but it’s up to us to talk to family and friends and explain why we need to repeal. Even though if you are not Irish, spreading comprehensive awareness about the need for safe and accessible abortion facilities is a key aspect through which you can play your part.

Abortions will continue to exist in the society. Whether they are legal or not, women will continue to seek abortions during situations of unwanted pregnancy. It is up to us to ensure that these women are not dying in back alley abortions due to conservative and antiquated laws that regulate the female reproductive system.

A Dissemination of Oppression

An unfortunate thing about oppression, besides the fact that it facilitates the mistreatment of large groups of people,  is that it is quite often not very tangible to those who are not directly affected by it. And when people, who are and have been for the most part of history in a privileged position, remain untouched by oppression, they start denying its existence all together.

I was having a conversation with a close relative of mine quite recently and somewhere in between talking about nothing, we started talking about political movements, especially feminism. This relative was of the opinion that feminism has become irrelevant in today’s society because women are treated equally everywhere and that the few restrictions that are created are merely due to the biological differences between men and women. And this opinion is not altogether alien to my ears, in fact many people who have been born and brought up in relatively egalitarian conditions believe that movements like Black Lives Matter and Feminism are antiquated and just a “waste of time.”

But what these people fail to realize is that just because you don’t face a certain kind of oppression does not mean that it doesn’t exist. Women are still very much maltreated and deprived of basic human rights in many parts of the world. Female infanticide and marital rape are prevalent in India and in many other countries as well. Safe and affordable healthcare to women is still a distant dream in almost all countries, including USA. In senates all across the world, majority of legislations dealing with issues relating to abortion and birth control are decided by overwhelmingly male legislatures.

There are still many issues that need to be addressed before we can firmly say that feminism is not required in the world anymore. Just because you have been fortunate enough to be sheltered from a certain kind of oppression, doesn’t mean that it isn’t being inflicted on those around you. We must use our position of privilege to speak for those being oppressed instead of blindly denying their oppression.

Is it time for the culmination of the pro-life – pro-choice debate?

The debate over the basic human right to bodily autonomy has been going on since much before the Roe vs. Wade case, which was only a small culmination of a heated political and social notion that has divided the world into two parts: pro-life and pro-choice.

But just like most questions on rights, shouldn’t this debate have been settled and resolved by now? For years there were people who argued against giving rights to black people, there have been protests against women running for primary seats in the senate, there have been movements against giving religious minorities right to practice their preferred religion, but in the US, all of these have had a concrete settlement when it comes to politics.

While there are racists and racists in America, it is largely believed that discrimination against the basis of gender or race is a gross violation of fundamental rights.

Then why do we not have a similar notion for the right to seek and access safe abortion facilities? This issue is blatantly black and white: the pregnant sentient person has the right to bodily autonomy which allows them to make decisions that affect their own bodies without having the opinions or beliefs of others forced upon them. Right to bodily autonomy of the pregnant person should always be respected. There is no law any where that says that it’s okay to use someone else’s body without their consent.And most importantly, consent to sex is not consent to pregnancy just as much as consent to driving is not consent to getting into a road accident. However, if you do happen to fall into anyone of those situations, you should always be in a position to seek appropriate medical care.

I feel that this debate has been unduly stretched over the past decades and it is time for us to come to a concrete consensus that every singly person should respect what someone else decides to do with their body.

Veiled

I have been raised in an environment where self-respect equates to chastity and modesty in your dressing style. I have been told by quite a few adults, my teachers included, that my body is something that should be hidden behind what society deems as appropriate clothing.

The female body has been indicted to so much scrutiny that everything from our reproductive rights to what we chose to wear is being consciously regulated by what others think is right. Something as natural as breastfeeding is confined to dirty bathrooms because people are so actively repulsed by the sight of women’s breasts doing anything other than pleasing the male-gaze.

I remember quite clearly that once my teacher told us, a class of around seventeen young girls, that when women wear “provocative” clothing or anything revealing it only encourages men to turn into rapists. I have never heard anything more blatantly blaming the sexual assault victim than that statement. Rape culture thrives on people who think that sexual assault happens because of how the victim is dressed. It gives legitimacy to the rapist – and in my eyes there is no bigger crime than giving legitimacy to a person or a law that violates the body of another human being.

It is a mindset like this, which is very unfortunately embedded in majority of the Asian society, that makes the environment hostile for women and trans men. When you start thinking that respect is earned by how people choose to dress themselves, that is when you start viewing human beings as tools of an institution rather than individuals who have rights of their own.

The aggressive advocacy for covering up the female body through the society accompanied with the hyper-sexualization of the female body through the media only incites young girls to view their body as merely something that arouses men and nothing else.

It surprises me every time I come across a person or an institution that polices someone to dress “modestly” to earn self-respect. The idea of self-respect is that you respect yourself as a human being and I can do that just as well when I am naked like I can when I am fully clothed.

What adorns my body is my skin and not the society veiled under a cloth.

The Gavel Gap

“In a perfect world, when the men and women who deliver justice look more like the communities they serve, there is greater confidence in our justice system overall.” – Christopher Kang.

It’s not a particularly surprising fact that there are significantly more men in the judicial system as lawyers, advocates, consultants, and judges than women. The same can be said for a majority of professions. But what really is surprising is the statistics – more women than men enter into and graduate from law schools than men in the United States. But still, law is a male-dominated profession in the USA, so much so that there have been cases where cabinets of only male lawyers have been consulted for the preparation of pro-choice and pro-life bills, which is ironic considering how this topic affects mainly women and trans-men.

Women comprise of half the population but less than a third of state judges. Women have entered law schools and the legal profession in large numbers for the last forty years and they are doing significantly well in their professions, but are severely under-represented in state courts.

The international courts and arbitration centers show a little less disparity when it comes to gender-based discrimination, but it is still hard to deny the blatant truth that though women are equally qualified to become judges, their male counterparts are constantly seen as a better fit for the same position.

Lack of representation of women in law-making and law-enforcing bodies leads to unbalanced laws that the whole population (half of which is female) have to follow. Most of the judges upholding and deciding on healthcare bills or hearing on pro-choice cases are male. They are inherently deciding on fundamental factors that are never going to actually affect them.

In India, there is a very wide gap between male and female judges and consequently India’s justice system often fails to deliver adequate hearings on sexual assault and abortion cases and those cases that are primarily concerned with the welfare of women. It becomes increasingly hard to break antiquated notions that prevent women from getting comprehensive healthcare and work-field protection when those implementing and formulating these legislations are predominantly male.

We need more women in courts as judges and senior judges to make sure that our voices are heard when it comes to legislations that directly affect us. We need to close the gavel gap.

Access to Water – Access to Education

During my internship at a law firm, one of the advocates who was working there told me a small anecdote about how he, along with a few other individuals, helped fund a program that made water more accessible to the tribal population in Kenya.

Kenya, although adorned with green glory and an infinite supply of food, faces a dearth in accessible water for all the obvious reasons: politics that directs almost all the water to urban facilities, lack of adequate water preservation, and industrial greed. This leaves little drinkable water for the poor population: the forest dwellers and those who live under poverty.

Most of the tribal population has to walk for miles to reach a small lake where they can access clean water. And in most of these cases, it is the female population that has to walk under the sun to get water for their villages. And this practice isn’t limited to Kenya, the same thing is quite common in India and other South-East Asian countries as well.

Retrieving water for an entire village takes up almost the entire day for the women and girls of that village; this means that they have little to no time to do anything else. Their mundane routine is to wake up, collect water, come back to their village and do household chores, sleep, and repeat the entire process the next day. They do not get time to go to school to get even the most basic education.

What the advocate in my law firm did was fundraise money for a charitable organization that built a mechanical well in one of the tribal villages in Kenya. The women no longer needed to walk almost six miles to get water because it was now available just a few steps from their homes.

A Christian missionary school operated a mile away from this village where all the boys used to go to get education. Within two years of installment of the well, the school which previously had only male students, started getting almost forty percent attendance from female students as well.

Making water more accessible to these villages indirectly made education for women and girls easier as well. Opening schools is not enough to increase access to education, we need to make sure that the most eminent demands for the poor population i.e. food, water, shelter, and health and hygiene facilities are taken care of as well.