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Gender biased Sex Selection and Access to Safe Abortions

Recent 2011 census data reveal a dismal child sex ratio of 914 females per 1000 males. This is down from 927 in 2001 and 945 in 1991.The sex ratio at birth at national level increased from 892 in 2000-2002 to 906 in 2007-2009. Gender biased sex selection in favor of boys is an act of gender discrimination highlighting socio- political injustices against women since ages. The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulations and Prevention of Misuse) Act came into force in 1994 to curb selective sex determination. The Act was amended in 2003 in order that it became more comprehensive and was renamed the Pre-Conception and Pre- Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act.

The most common reason given for skewed sex ratio is the easy availability of ultrasound technologies and abortions in the country. This is flawed perception as sex selection is first about determination of the sex of the fetus. In some cases attempts to combat gender biased sex selection have made it more difficult for women to access an abortion. There is threat of restriction to women’s access to abortion especially second trimester abortion in India. United Nations agencies have established that the rights of women and girls to life, health and development are violated when they undergo an unsafe abortion because safe services are denied to them. Evidence shows that if women do not have access to safe abortion services they often turn to unsafe options. Placing limitations on second trimester abortions and increasing unnecessary reporting requirements for abortions will discourage providers from offering abortion services.

Ensuring access to safe abortion services to the full extent of the law is crucial as is working with communities to address the social norms and practices that increase the vulnerability of women and girls to the health risks associated with unsafe abortion. Steps should be taken for balanced approach to address both issues of sex selection and lack of access to abortions. For this it is required educating policymakers, government officials and other stakeholders on the ways in which both MTP and PCPNDT Acts are implemented in fulfilling their intents. Encouraging dialogue among NGOSs that work to implement the PCPNDT Act and the MTP Act to reach consensus on strategies that address both issues without hindering either and to ensure strengthened implementation of both Acts with clear understanding. Operationalizing district level committees under the MTP Act so that private abortion providers are brought into the legal framework of the Act. This will endure regular reporting of MTP cases including second –trimester abortions.

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