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My Body Belongs to the Liberal State:

While the overturning of Roe vs. Wade was addressed with widespread public outrage in the US, it served as a reminder to the Indian public that something called The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act exists in the country. Netizens took to social media to rejoice over the liberal abortion laws in India, allowing legal access to abortion up to 24 weeks. “Yay! We beat the US at progressiveness” became the focal point of discussion. The question of bodily autonomy under the law is hardly treated as a concern in its own right and often ends up becoming a minor parameter in measuring the Indian state’s triumph over the West in terms of modernity.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, now allows legal and safe access to abortion to all women for upto 20 weeks of pregnancy and upto 24 weeks in cases of sexual assault, rape or incest; women being minors; widowhood or divorce during pregnancy; physical or mental disabilities; foetal malfunctions; humanitarian concerns and emergencies. However, looking back at the Act’s history, its cite of legislation lies in the socio-economic exigencies of the state and not in a serious concern for bodily autonomy.

Population control has been a chief concern of the Indian state, with India being the first country to launch a National Programme for Family Planning in 1952. Under this programme, Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) workers were deployed in numerous rural and urban settings to increase awareness on the available methods of contraception. However, a study from last month concluded that over the past 70 years, ASHA workers have been closely promoting female sterilisation. This practice usually involved an initial session on available methods of contraception, followed by a number of formal and informal sessions with women on the benefits and necessities of sterilisation as a means of family planning.

The panic around growing population results from the oft-quoted Malthusian Pessimism that the quantity of food available per head decreases with an increase in population. However, the Malthusian Model has lately been debunked and challenged on several grounds. Historically, food scarcity has not been a result of the increasing population, but one of negligent state policies and faulty resource allocation. The spectre of resource scarcity is more a product of capitalist accumulation than of increasing population. Family Planning programmes in India hardly ever incorporated any strategies for better resource management. As a result, there arises a need for more helping hands in the family – thereby placing the burden of reproducing the class of workers in the family on women. In a society where increased emphasis is placed on the need of a male heir, women are forced to reproduce despite giving birth to multiple female children or even in cases of major health risks - particularly when access to healthcare is limited. These Family Planning Programmes, instead of fighting the arbitrary burden of reproduction plac