I am really enjoying the work I’ve been doing so far for my fellowship in the Reproductive Rights Unit at Human Rights Law Network. It is such a great feeling to work on important issues and be surrounded by people who are passionate about standing up for what is right. I have learned so much already and I haven’t even been in India for two weeks yet!
Already I have helped draft a petition to be filed in the Supreme Court of India requesting a revision of the country’s law on abortion. Currently, women in India can only get an abortion past the 20th week of pregnancy if her life is at risk. But there is no exception for risk to her physical or mental health. In cases where the fetus is diagnosed with severe abnormalities (which can only be determined after the 20 week cut-off), women are either forced to pursue unsafe abortions by people who are not medically trained (which contributes to India having the highest maternal mortality rate in the world) or they are forced to carry the fetus to term, only to watch it die a few hours after delivery. In either situation, the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health are in serious jeopardy. I researched personal stories of women who went through this in order to appeal to the Supreme Court to include an exception for health in India’s current abortion law.
I also planned a two day fact finding mission in Gujarat, a western state of India, to investigate whether medical follow-up was conducted on the thousands of girls, age 10-14, who were part of an HPV vaccine study. Many of the girls and parents were not fully informed about the vaccine before they were administered, many suffered from bad side-effects and a few died from the vaccine. I almost had the chance to travel to this far off destination and conduct the fact finding with two co-workers, but unfortunately the train waiting list had other plans for me.
So I stayed in Delhi this week and was able to work on another Supreme Court petition, this time focused on access to contraception. Just over 40% of the population has access to effective contraception, of which two-thirds underwent sterilization operations. 95% of sterilizations are done on women in this very male-dominated culture. Last week I spoke to a journalist who called to get a quote from my supervisor about the prevalent problem of women being coerced into getting sterilized. Here is his interesting article, “India’s Poorest Women Coerced Into Sterilization,” which was published on Tuesday: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-06-11/india-s-poorest-women-coerced-into-sterilization.html
Today I began my newest project to create a training module for paralegals in India on the rights of women, adolescents and children to accessing health services. Hopefully the manual will help paralegals in advising people on what their rights are and how to access the health services promised to them.
It’s been a busy 10 days of work!