To ensure that pregnancy and childbirth happen safely, Tamil Nadu state government has come up with a brilliant new scheme — put pregnant women under surveillance.

Times of India reported that Tamil Nadu government is planning to make it mandatory for all pregnant women to register their pregnancies with the health department. Upon failing to do so, they will also not be able to register the childbirth, which in return would result in them not being able to get a birth certificate for their child.

By July, women will also be allowed to register through a phone call to a dedicated non-emergency medical number, 102, or through any private hospital as well. Women can also register their pregnancies through health nurses or by visiting the webpage of Tamil Nadu’s health department.

More than 60% of deliveries in Tamil Nadu happen in the government hospitals, however, women visiting private hospitals remain outside the government’s information net. Through this programme, which aims to allow the state government to collect information on pregnant women from all socio-economic groups, whether they’re visiting public hospitals or private, the government conveniently gets an authorised excuse for keeping tabs on pregnant women outside the reach of government hospitals.

The Tamil Nadu government is planning to make it mandatory for all pregnant women to register their pregnancies with the health department.

An explanation of this, as given by a senior doctor working on the project, is, “When women move places for delivery, we want to make sure health care providers at the new place have adequate information about the expectant mother. Information usually reaches district headquarters only when it audits maternal death. The new platform keeps everyone informed.

According to the officials, the registration of pregnancies across the state will help maintain the medical records of the expectant mothers, send them reminders for their visits to the doctors and warn them regarding conditions like anaemia, hypertension and diabetes. The scheme will also help the state to gather information on the number and reasons for caesarian deliveries as well as abortions in private hospitals.

Also Read: A Call To Overhaul The Abortion Law Of India

It’s an ambitious project that attempts to bring down maternal and infant mortality rates by keeping a tab on every pregnant woman in the state,” said the health secretary of Tamil Nadu, Dr J Radhakrishnan.

Dr J Radhakrishnan’s statement in itself is highly problematic, perhaps just as much as this scheme. To see that surveillance of pregnant women to keep a record of their movements and their choices takes priority for the state amongst all the different ways deliveries can be made safer is disturbing, to say the least.

This scheme is ambitious, alright. But only in its way of how to better control the free will of women and shrug off the blame from the government for its poor health services to the expectant mothers themselves. How would “keeping a tab on every pregnant woman in the state” help “bring down maternal and infant mortality rates” of the state? Someone please explain this to me. Why did the government not find it a more pressing necessity to work towards improving the health facilities available to women instead of putting women under inspection?

If a woman has the right to abortion, shouldn’t she also be given the right to confidentiality?

This scheme, in fact, might just do the opposite in certain sectors. The burden of implementing this scheme in rural areas will inadvertently fall on the shoulders of village nurses, reducing their time and effort towards interacting and educating people of the village and different communities about the health risks pregnant women face and such. The time that will now go in maintaining a record of who’s pregnant could have been well utilised otherwise.

Not to mention, this system may just act as a monitoring tool that could (and probably would) lead to a victim-blaming approach. A woman missing a prenatal visit to her doctor could easily be sighted as the reason for any mishap during the birth. How would that be fair?

Also, this scheme would work as a tool to keep a tab on the number of abortions in the state and reasons behind them. The social stigma attached to abortion makes it really difficult for women to avail legal abortion services instead they go for an unsafe abortion, simply for the fear of being judged and shamed for making a choice for their bodies.

Also Read: Rohtak Rape Brings Into Focus India’s Troubled Relationship With Reproductive Rights

With the registration of pregnancy becoming mandatory, abortion becomes an even more difficult service to access. Abortion is very sensitive and private data for most women, especially if the reason behind it is an unwanted pregnancy, and hence, knowing that a record of it is being maintained by the government makes for a source of great discomfort and apprehension. It will only result in an increase in the number of unsafe abortions, which can cause great harm.

The government of Tamil Nadu has also had a past record of banning an emergency contraceptive pill Mis-take on moral grounds instead of legal ones, just one year after the ruling by the Central Government that emergency contraceptives be made available without a prescription. The basis of this ban was stated to be the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, which empowers Drug Controllers to seize any drugs found to be spurious, adulterated or falsely branded. However, the ECP Mis-take was guilty of none of these.

Also Read: iPill, uPill, We Would All Kill For An iPill In Chennai

This just goes to show that Tamil Nadu government’s actions are more in accordance with the promotion of the social stigma around abortion than dedicated towards improving the health facilities provided to women. If a woman has the right to abortion, shouldn’t she also be given the right to confidentiality, if she chooses so? Why, then, is the government of Tamil Nadu trying so hard to meddle with it?

This registration of pregnancy scheme by Tamil Nadu state government would result in only reducing the experience of a safe pregnancy and delivery for women, instead of becoming a tool for the improvement of maternal and infant health.

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