'Playing God' row on abortion
New Delhi: Groups campaigning for reproductive rights have criticised a show telecast by Sony Entertainment Television on Thursday which they said insensitively portrayed the dilemma experienced by a woman character who had an abnormal foetus and was considering abortion.
A coalition called Advocating Reproductive Choices (ARC) said an advertorial to promote the first episode of the show, Zindagi Ke Crossroads, "was insensitive, misleading and misconstrued", and that the first show used "inappropriate language" in the context of abortion.
The advertorial, headlined "Mother asked to kill her own child", outlined the dilemma of a 34-year-old character who had learnt from her gynaecologist that her foetus would be born with "permanent abnormalities".
"If Neha saves her child she would save motherhood but give her child a life of unknown suffering," the advertorial said. "But if she aborts her pregnancy, she would be playing God by not allowing fate to take its course."
ARC, a coalition of 170 civil society groups and individuals advocating sexual and reproductive rights, said it was "defamatory" to describe a woman who opts for abortion as "playing God".
A statement from Sony Pictures Networks India said: "The advertorial or the episodic content of this fiction show merely sought to portray the dilemma facing the protagonist. Each episode of this fiction show portrays different dilemmas faced by people."
ARC said it was "disheartening" that a popular Indian media house had used "irresponsible provocative content" to promote what it said was a reality show, for it involved live discussions by an audience.
Using expressions such as "kill her own child" and "playing God" is unacceptable, ARC said, as it gives a negative connotation to medical termination of pregnancy and sensationalises an important issue.
"These words unnecessarily create a sensation to the incident, adding misery to the life of the expecting woman who might have already taken a hard decision to abort the foetus (after) medical advice," ARC said in a media release.
Sony Pictures Networks India said the protagonist in the episode chose to continue with the pregnancy and bring the child up with love and affection.
"At a later stage when she realises that the child also needs professional help, she's again at a crossroad(s); she has to decide whether to leave the child at the centre or educate the child herself," the statement said.
"Towards the end of the episode we see that the protagonist decides to stay back at the centre with her child and care for children with special needs."
Another group called Pratigya: Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion said the advertorial and promo video had prioritised motherhood over women's choice and had therefore done great injustice to women, their rights and gender equality.
"Unfortunately, it perpetuates (the) existing stereotypes (about) women's role (as) a wife and child-bearer," Pratigya said in a statement. "This is absolutely discriminatory against women and (a) violation of their individuality and rights."
Pratigya said the advertorial and the programme content stigmatised abortion and those who sought the measure.
"Equating abortion to 'killing her own child' gives an impression that abortion, which is legal in India, is a serious crime and questions the choice of (the) over 15 million women in India who choose to terminate a pregnancy annually," it said.
ARC underlined that abortion was a legal process and a matter that involved only the pregnant woman and the medical facilities available.
"We are concerned that such an episode might have a long-term impact on the decision-making process of women," it said.
It added that many Indian women carry on with their unexpected pregnancies, failing to take a timely call because of the social stigma around abortion.
It said it expected TV channels to "do the necessary background research" and equip themselves "to handle discussions around such sensitive issues rather than further stigmatising abortion".