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Abortion, Law, and Everyday Ethics in India: Women’s Reproductive Choices in Everyday World

  • Prof. Mizuho Matsuo
Wednesday 13 March 2024
Kamerlingh Onnes Building
Steenschuur 25
2311 ES Leiden

For the next meeting of Intimate Legal Interactions, Prof. Mizuho Matsuo will share us insights from her research on discourse and practice of abortion in India.

This paper analyses the discourse and practices of abortion in India from the perspective of family formation and how it differs from common arguments that see abortion as a matter of contested rights between the mother and the foetus, from the point of view of everyday ethics.

Abortion is a means of controlling the number and timing of births and is a crucial part of the ‘design’ of the family. However, abortion has long been seen less as a family issue and more as a conflict between a woman’s rights, such as the right to control her own body and sexual and reproductive health rights, and the right to life of the foetus. Whenever abortion is discussed, it is always framed as a contested rights issue: should a woman’s right to abortion take precedence, or should it be balanced by the right to life of the foetus? Abortion has therefore always been the most politically and legally controversial issue. Many historical and anthropological studies of gender show that women’s bodies and bodily experiences are reconstructed under the governance of the state and medicine. Lynn Morgan describes reproductive governance as ‘the mechanisms through which different historical configuration of actors-such as state, religious, and international financial institutions, NGOs, and social movements-use legislative controls, economic inducements, moral injunctions, direct coercion, and ethical incitements to produce, monitor, and control reproductive behaviors and population practices’(Lyon 2012:243). 

Based on my field work in Maharashtra, India since 2018 and a web based survey conducted in 2021, this paper discusses how the reproductive governance, people’s practices and everyday ethics around abortion are complexly entangled in India where the population control has been a major concern for the state for many years. Through this, it also attempts to show how people’s hope for a ‘better’ family are unfold through the routinised maternity care and medical patriarchy.

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