Human Right and Birth Control
Authored by Satvica Dixit
Keywords: Birth control, Contraception, Human Right, Right to Privacy, Pregnancy, Reproductive Choice, Family Planning.
The approach to human development has always accentuated the importance of good health as one of the constitutive elements that are both intrinsic and of instrumental value for an individual’s ability to thrive. The issue of birth control and family planning not only underlines the importance of individual health and wellbeing but also this is vital for women's empowerment and prosperous society and nations. This article provides a detailed and engaging insight into the issue of birth control (contraception) and human rights.
Birth Control also popularly known as contraception is a method for preventing unwanted pregnancy. There are numerous temporary options available for contraception such as birth control pills, condoms, Intra-Uterine Devices (IUDs). People can also go for permanent contraception such as Vasectomy and Tubectomy when the couple finally decides to stop the procreation. In 2012, the United Nations (UN) released a report which proclaimed that “Contraception is a human right”. Even the United Nations Population Fund in 2012 released an annual report stating for the first time that access to “birth control is an essential human right”. The agency believes that the lives of women around the world will improve drastically if they are ensured proper contraceptives and that the cultural, legal, and financial barriers to family planning violate their basic human rights.
Human Right to Contraception around the world
Throughout human history, the efforts to plan, delay or avoid pregnancy had been a private and personal struggle of women and girls but after the 1968 International Conference on Human Rights, family planning became a human rights obligation for every country to follow. So, the governments around the world in their natural order are obligated under international human rights law to protect, promote and fulfill the right to health which includes the right to contraception and maternal prenatal health but the things, in reality, aren't that simple.
There are hundreds of millions of women around the world who have little or no access to their reproductive rights. The UN estimates that the lack of availability of contraceptives affects almost 11 percent of sexually active women around the world between the age group 15 and 49 who either don't want more children or would like to delay the birth of a child. All women regardless of where they live should have the right to "reproductive freedom". There are still many countries that don't recognize abortion rights legally like Afghanistan, Bahrain, Congo, etc. Countries like El Salvador have penalized abortion and prosecute women in violation of these. This is unquestionably a gross violation of human rights as every woman should necessarily have the right to her reproductive choice.
The program of action of the International Conference on Population and Development have stated about the right of men and women to be well informed about safe, affordable, acceptable, and effective methods of family planning of their choice. Moreover, the Committee on the rights of the child has recognized that States should provide adolescents access to sexual and reproductive information on family planning and contraceptives.
Right to Contraception in India
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) governs the abortion laws in India for birth control. Under Section 3 of the MTP Act, only registered medical practitioners can terminate the pregnancy if they believe in good faith that the pregnancy can lead to a risk to the woman’s or child’s life. If the pregnancy is under 12 weeks, the permission of one medical practitioner is necessary and if the pregnancy is between 12 and 20 weeks, the authorization of at least two medical practitioners is mandatory. Beyond 20 weeks, Section 5 of the act permits abortion only when the practitioner believes that abortion is immediately required to save the woman’s life.
Sections 3 and 5 infringe the women’s rights to make their reproductive choices because at no point during pregnancy can a woman choose to get an abortion on her own which prevents her from exercising the rights to physical integrity and making free choices related to her body as these abortions are doctor-centric and ultimately it is their decision to whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
The court in the case of Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration recognized the reproductive rights which include a woman’s choice to pregnancy, to give birth, and to subsequently raise children and that these form part of a woman’s right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity. Again in the landmark case of Justice K S Puttaswamy v Union of India, the court recognized privacy as an unassailable right grounded in values of dignity which underlies all the fundamental rights covering the personal autonomy relating to the body, mind, and making choices about them. This judgment specifically stated the constitutional right of women to make reproductive choices as a part of the right to life and personal liberty enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Even after the court has acknowledged the right to contraception and birth control in the above cases still the Sections 3 and 5 of MTP pose a lot of questions regarding the freedom to make decisions about reproductive choices. An amendment bill was also introduced in this context in 2014 which offered to expand reproductive rights by allowing abortion on "request" up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
But even this amendment bill does not address all the privacy concerns related to the act as women still have to prove that the pregnancy was unplanned or that the contraceptives failed which again considerably restricts the exercise of making their reproductive choice. In a country like India where 9-20% of maternal deaths are because of unsafe abortions, there is an urgent and high need to align the provisions of the MTP Act to ensure the proper implementation of these rights and also ensuring birth control.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is the governmental unit for formulating and executing family planning and birth control in India. An inverted Red Triangle is the primary sign of family planning and contraceptive services in India. The government in 2005 established the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) to address some of these issues and to provide effective healthcare especially to poor and vulnerable populations in rural areas.
In 2015, the government introduced three new contraceptive methods i.e. injectable contraceptive, cent chroman, and progestin pills that indicated a much-needed shift from the terminal method of female sterilization to modern methods of contraception. In 2017, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare initiated Mission Parivar Vikas, a central family planning initiative to improve access to contraceptives by delivering services, accelerating access to high-quality family planning services, and ensuring commodity security.
The main goal of this mission is to lower India's overall fertility rate to 2.1 by the year 2025 and around twenty Indian states have shown progress where the replacement rate level dipped below by 2.1 and they are no longer contributing to population growth. India is among the most populous countries in the world and the government of our country needs to be extra attentive and cagey in implementing these laws as and through upholding the basic human rights as well.
All women and men have the absolute right to avoid the exhaustion and danger of too many pregnancies and they should have the right to choose how and when often to embrace parenthood. Every individual irrespective of any country has the human right to determine the scope and direction of his or her future in the most fundamental way possible. Access to quality and good family planning is not only a human right but it is equally important for individual and societal well-being, and the nation's development as a whole. Until and unless family planning is a universally available choice to every human, human rights will not be fully realized in its best sense.
 Report of UNFPA and the Center for Reproductive Rights, 2011  Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration, S.L.P. (C) No. 17985 of 2009  Justice K S Puttaswamy v Union of India, Writ petition (civil) no. 494 of 2012