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‘The Biggest Anti-Abortion Beliefs You Have Don’t Make Any Sense To Me’

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By Meera Vijayann:

Republican Presidential nominee Ben Carson came close to declaring a war on women’s health in America on Sunday. On NBC’s show ‘Meet The Press’, Carson defended outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest saying: “I will not be in favour of killing a baby because the baby came about in that way.” And just when you thought he could stoop no lower, he went so far as to compare abortion to slavery.

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But Carson’s regressive views are not uncommon. Back in India, abortion is, similarly, a sensitive issue. Despite Indian law allowing abortion up to a period of twenty weeks, women’s lives are still in danger. Women in large parts of rural India cannot afford abortion services, let alone primary care, when they are pregnant. In cities, social stigma still weighs heavily on women who wish to undergo abortions. The topic of abortion, in short, continues to be controversial, even in light of more open discussions among Indian youth about men and women’s health issues. Recently, a campaign on abortion stigma run by CREA and Youth Ki Awaaz invited a flurry of responses from young people across the country. These responses ranged from positive, encouraging messages to extremely negative accusations that abortion is “murder” and it is a “sin”.

So why don’t we set the record straight and dig deeper into those questions that people both in the US and India are currently debating about:

“Abortion Is A Sin” So I Won’t Support It

That’s fine. What’s important is that it is your choice for your body. In many religions, abortion is considered a sin. It is likely that if your views on abortion are weighed against the values that your religion dictates, it is hard to fathom. However, as citizens in a democracy, we are protected by fundamental civil rights.

Think about this: In many countries across the world, abortions have been refused to women on the basis of religious beliefs. In Paraguay, an 11-year old rape survivor was not allowed to undergo an abortion because of the country’s deep catholic faith. In the United States, House Republicans recently moved to defund Planned Parenthood, a national non-profit network of clinics that provides reproductive and maternal healthcare services for women, after a controversial video made by anti-abortion activists was leaked to the media. The video was proven to be false, yet Planned Parenthood came under intense attack with its Washington office damaged by arson. All this, despite the fact that a large number of beneficiaries of its services are women from low-income backgrounds who have little or no other alternative for care.

In the Philippines, which is predominantly Catholic, abortion is illegal and as a result, many women are shamed and forced to opt for clandestine and often dangerous means to end an unwanted pregnancy. There are nearly 500,000 cases of abortion and 1000 deaths in the country every year. Let’s not forget the tragic death of Savita Halappanavar, an Indian mother who died in Ireland because the State didn’t provide her an abortion on religious grounds. By opposing abortion based on your beliefs, you are placing your personal beliefs above a woman’s life and health.

“Abortion Is Murder” So I Won’t Support It

There are deep emotional, moral and social sensibilities associated with abortion. Primarily, there is a moral (personal reasoning) and an ethical (social reasoning) dilemma involved. Sex-selective abortion is a crime in India, but let’s get this straight — if a woman legally wishes to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, it is her sovereign right.

A lot of people who are anti-abortion have brought up the issue of a foetus’ right to life. They demand action against the mother for not executing her “duty” and want to take away the right to “murder”. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. In some countries, a foetus is not considered a human being until its birth. Recently, when House Republicans made a point to stress that abortion is ‘murder’, there were several debates around what constituted murder.

If you define murder as “the intentional killing of a human being” — would you also be willing to be held responsible every time a mother dies because she is unable to access reproductive health services? That immediately makes the debate lopsided.

Abortion is an intentional termination of a “pregnancy”. Many argue that for an abortion to be termed as murder, a foetus will have to first fulfil all the ethical points of what constitutes ‘personhood’. It will have to have a beating heart, a brain, a fully formed, functioning body – which it isn’t in the first few months.

“Abortion Is Against My Values” So I Won’t Support It

Ask yourself this: if I were to force you to risk your health simply because I believed in something and wanted you to act the way I would, would you consider that fair? The simple answer is no. While you have every right to choose against undergoing an abortion, it isn’t your right to dictate what a woman does with her body. Fundamentally, a woman’s reproductive choices are her own and it is a civic right for her to make a decision on her own. If you are asking why a woman wouldn’t choose to give birth and give the baby up for adoption, mull over this fact: adoption is NOT an easy alternative. In the US, there is 1 adoption for every 140 abortions. Children in state custody do not have an easy life either.

Second, if your family or community ‘honour’ solely depends on your impeding a woman’s right to an abortion or wellbeing, it’s seriously time for a reality check.

Globally, the reproductive health and well-being of women has become highly politicised around issues such as abortion, birth control and sexual health related treatments. Sadly, the people these decisions tend to impact are women alone. Whether rich or poor, in the east or west, millions of women are still struggling for a basic right to have control of their own bodies. I’ve personally seen so many women who are close to me undergo traumatic, secretive abortions and handle it on their own. In each case, it was different; an unplanned pregnancy, a marital rape, an abandonment. Today, their decision to terminate a pregnancy has allowed them to move forward with their lives.

Before we take a staunch position to oppose abortion based on our personal beliefs, take into account that, despite it being legal, one woman dies every two hours in India due to an unsafe abortion and nearly 20 million risks their lives walking into a clinic which has little or no resources to help them. If we put an unborn foetus’ life over a mother’s, it is nothing but a travesty.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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