Over 250 activists and groups have protested against the recent suggestions by two MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly that “female foeticide” be treated as murder.

A letter sent to Speaker Dilip Walse Patil on Tuesday, at the initiative of the Forum Against Sex Selection (FASS), a network of 22 organisations and over 16 individuals, expressed concern at the statements made by Pankaja Munde-Palve (BJP) and Jitendra Avhad (NCP) that female “foeticide” be treated as murder and culprits be booked for the offence of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code.

The letter said that first of all abortion should not be referred to as foeticide, which had anti-abortion implications. Women had the right to decide when and whether or not they should bear and give birth to children. Making sex-selective abortions (wrongly referred to as “female foeticide”) a murder charge, would only increase illegal abortions and also make access to safe abortion difficult.

Safe and legal abortion is a woman's right and abortion is legal in India. Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP Act) spells out the conditions under which it can be carried out. Sex-selective abortion, however, amounts to discrimination against a particular sex, in most cases, female sex. Sex-selection in favour of the male child is a symptom of devaluation of female lives. It is important to remember that those who want to use abortion for elimination of the female foetus have to first determine the sex of the child.  Rightly, it is this process of pre-natal selection which is a crime, and it is being regulated and monitored through the Preconception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex selection) (PCPNDT) Act.

The letter said: “Unless we are able to deal with all those social and economic factors that are going into the culture of son-preference and daughter-aversion, the child sex ratio will go on plummeting. But the solution is not to curb the legal right to abortion. Rather the PCPNDT Act should be enforced, and clinics that offer prenatal sex testing should be weeded out.”

The letter condemned the demand to make abortion a crime and urged the government to stop using anti-abortion stand for curbing the plummeting child sex ratio.  Checking pre-natal sex selection required the proper implementation of the PCPNDT Act and monitoring of sex-selective procedures by the government. It could not be achieved by introducing such draconian measures that curb women's right to safe and legal abortion.

The letter was endorsed by the FASS, Mumbai; health activist Manisha Gupte of the MASUM, Pune; Vibhuti Patel, Head, Department of Economics, SNDT  University, Mumbai; S. Parasuraman,  Director, Tata Institute of Social Sciences; Mohan Rao, the Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU, New Delhi; Chayanika Shah, researcher and activist, Mumbai; and Uma Chakravarty, historian.