An Indian judge ruled this week that a man could face “legal consequences” if he refuses to impregnate his estranged wife, The Times of India reported.
The woman, 35, last year petitioned a family court in Mumbai for the right to conceive a second child with her estranged husband, either though “conjugal relations” or in-vitro fertilization. According to her lawyer, she is concerned about her ticking biological clock and wants a second child to accompany her first born and support her in old age.
The man filed for divorce in 2017, alleging his wife had treated him with cruelty. Neither of them have been publicly identified.
In her ruling Judge Swati Chauhan ordered the couple to see a marriage counselor on Monday and to meet with an expert on in-vitro fertilization within a month. She acknowledged that the case is “emotionally debatable and gender intricate.”
However, Chauhan said that the woman’s request for her husband’s sperm is a “legitimate, eugenic choice of hers,” and she “has a right to reproduce and she is entitled to exercise it.”
“Not allowing a fertile woman to procreate is like compelling her to sterilize,” Chauhan added. “To curb or curtail reproductive right may have a subtle and devastating demographic outcome.”
Chauhan supported her decision by referencing international laws and treaties on reproductive health. She said that “reproductive rights” are “basic civil rights.”
The United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in 1994 urged “a recognition of the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children.”
In response to the judge’s ruling, the man decried the demands as “illegal” and said he would not consent to impregnating his wife with “assisted reproductive technology.”
Chauhan conceded that the man’s consent is “crucial” and that he may not be compelled to undergo the procedure. But she warned he could face “legal and logical consequences” if he did not make a reasonable effort to cooperate.
“The respondent may refuse ART by not giving his consent. But by unreasonable refusal he may expose himself to the legal and logical consequences which may follow,” she said in her ruling. “Reproductive right is closely and directly related to woman. But in the patriarchal society in India, the majority of women lack the decision-making power.”
Indian feminism parallels America
India’s traditionally patriarchal society has in recent years come under growing pressure from feminists demanding gender equality. New laws have sought to protect women from sexual assault and marital financial conflicts.
But inspired by the men’s rights groups in the United States, Indian men have organized online to push back. They have said that women make false accusations and use the laws against their husbands.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. “gender wars,” whether men or women tend to come out on top in divorce has remained a hotly contested question. And courtrooms have often been the fields where these cultural battles play out.
Men complain that because they tend to earn more, they take a bigger hit when marriage ends. For instance, last week a Michigan appeals court ruled that a suburban Detroit man who won more than $30 million in the lottery must give half the windfall to his wife.
But women note that they often often suffer more post-divorce because they have put their careers on hold to raise children.
Not everything is about money, though. In March, the Arizona appeals court ruled that a woman named Ruby Torres could impregnate herself with embryos she and her ex-husband had preserved during their marriage. Despite his objections to the plan, the ex, John Terrell, could even be required to pay child support.
“It is, of course, true that if Torres were awarded the embryos, Terrell could be legally responsible to financially support the children,” the ruling stated. “That reality is the same today as it was when the parties executed the (in vitro fertilization) agreement nearly four years ago.”