“My husband and I decided to go for the abortion without informing my in-laws because we knew they won’t understand our view and would have wanted us to try for a son to carry the vansh forward.”
This was the story shared with us by Malini, who was confronted by Indian society’s deep prejudices about women’s bodies. And there are numerous ways in which they show themselves. Like in Nandini’s experience:
“Yes, the abortion was my decision but that’s what he wanted as well! The doctor, the nurse and the attendant, they were all giving me these judgemental stares, as if I had committed a felony. They wouldn’t give Sunil the same looks, but then, having an abortion is a woman’s brunt to bear.”
To mark September 28 – the Global Day of Action for Safe and Legal Abortion – Love Matters spoke to several women who chose abortion, some willingly, others forced. The one thread that runs through all these tales is fear – of the family, of the society, of the partner or the worst – the fear that emanates from within. This fear, the shame, the stigma and judgment makes millions of Indian women undergo abortion in discreet, unsafe, illegal clinics risking their health and lives.
India acknowledged a woman’s right to her own body by legalising abortion as far back as in 1971 with the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. However, the irony is that nearly 10 million Indian women secretly undergo abortion in India every year. Ipas India also reported in 2013 that unsafe abortions killed one woman for every two hours in India. That’s approximately 4600 deaths a year. Such high rates of abortion deaths and unsafe abortions, despite the process being legal in India, indicate that women are being denied their reproductive rights. This comes first and foremost from the shame and stigma that is associated with sex in India, especially pre-marital sex. And it pushes millions of unmarried women into seeking unsafe abortions.
As India’s first online platform providing blush-free information and sex and relationships, Love Matters seeks to push for safer abortions in India by targeting the stigma around it. We need for conversation on reproductive rights, and to enable that, Love Matters has launched a campaign called #ChoiceOverStigma. One of the ways we hope to achieve this conversation is through a blogathon, Women from various walks of life share powerful but poignant accounts about the desperate need for women to be able to claim their reproductive rights.
During the blogathon, Supriya wrote in about why this is so important: “Had I not had the power to choose abortion I would not be the person I am today. The person who walked away from a six year long emotionally and mentally abusive relationship. The person who finally brought an end to the self-destructive behaviour. that led to four pregnancies before I was even 21.”
Speaking about the need for such a campaign, Vithika Yadav, Head of Love Matters India says, “Women’s right to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and services, including abortion, is grounded in human rights. A woman should be able to decide for herself what choice she wants to make – be it having a child, not having a child or having an abortion. A woman should not be judged and/or stigmatized for reproductive choices she makes. When women are denied the right to access safe and legal abortion, they are subjected to cruel and degrading treatment, thereby perpetuating violence against women.”
In addition to sharing stories, we’re also encouraging people to help create an environment where women need not hide their reproductive choices. We’ve proposed a vox pop that explores young people’s attitudes around the theme “Should women feel guilty about their choice to have an abortion?”
There’s also the #ChoiceOverStigma photo series that explores the diverse reproductive choices that women make, supported by an image and short vignette pertaining to each of their reproductive choices.
Further still, we’re hosting an open mic event, for people of all ages to come together for performance arts, spoken word poetry and storytelling.
And finally, the Ice-Cream Selfie Challenge. Love Matters would like women to be able to make reproductive choices just as easily and without judgment as they would pick a color to wear, or their favorite ice-cream flavour and is thus.asking women to share a #ChoiceOverStigma ice-cream selfie, and encourage other women in their lives to do the same.
It is high time that the shame and stigma associated with abortion is brought to an end. The first and the simplest way is to start talking about abortion.
Why not make a start today?