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What Morals Are We Standing Up For When A Woman Is Forced To Carry An Unwanted Pregnancy?

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MyBodyMyChoice logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #MyBodyMyChoice, a campaign by Global Health Strategies and Youth Ki Awaaz to create awareness around access to safe abortion and women's right to reproductive justice. Join the conversation by publishing a story here.

Abortion is a reality, not only in India but everywhere in the world. It’s just that its occurrence differs from country to country; sometimes behind closed doors or illegal spaces and sometimes in white medical rooms.

But, it’s time to see abortion as an essential function that needs to take place as per the need, sans judgement – as this is precisely what is lacking in our current abortion law, debates and related court cases in India. Most of the times such discussions also get smeared with pro-life and pro-choice angles which only prolongs the ‘urgent’ abortion cases. Thus, making abortion a long legal struggle for a pregnant woman or girl who might be feeling overwhelmed during this phase of her life.

It’s true that such cases differ from woman to woman, just as every woman experiences pregnancy differently according to her body needs, physique, etc. However, what is still required is the ‘choice’ in any decision pertaining to abortion. Such choices are more vital in the case of an adult woman and can be based on ‘best interests of the child’ in case of a minor girl.

Legally, an abortion is allowed in India provided that certain conditions are fulfilled under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. This includes mandatory consultations with doctors (1 or 2) for pregnancies below 12 weeks and up to 20 weeks. Beyond 20 weeks, abortions are allowed only if continuation of such pregnancies are a risk to the mother’s life or causes grave injury to her physical or mental health and when there is the same substantial risk to the foetus – resulting in a child being born with a severe handicap (mental and physical).

Abortions are also allowed legally if the pregnancy is a result of a contraceptive failure in case of married women or when the pregnancy is a result of rape. Ultimately, it is the doctor who takes the final call on whether an abortion can be carried out or not.

While this is crucial, as an expert medical opinion should be taken before deciding on an abortion, shouldn’t the final call rest with the mother-to-be?

Why This Reflection?

Today, after nearly 50 years of the MTP Act, gynaecologists, health activists, and even mothers are of the opinion that it’s time to do away with this 20 week limit for abortions. It’s not just about progressive thinking – but rightful thinking combined with the choice and the best interests of a mother-to-be.

Living in this age of technological advancement, our lives have indeed improved and been made easier especially in the case of health diagnosis and medical treatments. So naturally, the detection of foetal abnormalities has also been made easier with advanced scanning facilities in many hospitals and clinics. But, the fact that a pregnant woman cannot decide for herself on whether she wishes to continue such pregnancies is not very encouraging.

Therefore, the MTP Act doesn’t really assure a mother her rights to healthier motherhood and an independent choice. Reproductive health, childbirth and abortion should be about rights and personal decisions even when a mother’s life is not at risk. Even in cases of deliveries resulting in babies born with severe disabilities, it should be the mother or both the parents making the final call on raising the baby, as it can be an overwhelming phase for the parents.

In case of accessing abortion for a pregnancy due to rape, the decision should also be handled sensitively as per the situation, and not entirely as per a standard law to avoid loss of precious time in the courts to get a green signal for abortion. Many times, doctors have medically terminated advanced pregnancies beyond 20 weeks period.

In this case, wouldn’t it be more beneficial if all or at least exceptional abortion cases were reviewed by a team of medical experts instead of just strictly abiding by the law? Isn’t this better than spending crucial days, running from one court pillar to the other?

This move will help in reducing the number of women or families approaching unqualified practitioners to terminate pregnancies. That’s what we should be making space for – safer abortions!

I know that even today, many of us don’t stand with the ‘A-word’ because of the internalised notion that it equates to ‘sinning’ or is morally incorrect. But, what morals are we standing up for when a pregnant woman or a girl is forced or coerced to carry pregnancies to term?

The Way Forward

So, what can be done for safer access to abortions in India?

For starters, the amendments that were proposed by the Health Ministry in 2014 for the MTP Act could be implemented rightfully, as the proposed amendments hold a potential to be a path breaker for greater bodily autonomy in reproductive health choices for women in India. Out of the few proposed changes, increasing the time limit from 20 to 24 weeks for abortion is a big step in this direction. The other suggested changes include:

  • Allowing health care providers in Homeopathy and Ayurveda to perform non-surgical abortions.
  • Allowing abortion on requests for up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
  • Eliminating the need for second medical opinion for a second-trimester abortion.
  • Removal of ‘married women’ from the original law thus, recognizing single women’s need for access to abortion services.

However, these changes are yet to see daylight and haven’t been formally passed at the national level. Thankfully, there are other victories at smaller levels too.

Last year, in a landmark decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged the right to privacy of Indian citizens. Though this verdict was related to the debate on the intrusion of State into individual lives through mandatory linking of Aadhaar with various programmes, the judgment did touch upon the core heart of the privacy issue and recognised every Indian’s fundamental right to privacy as per the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.

With regard to bodily autonomy and right to privacy, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a woman’s personal choice on decisions regarding childbirth and abortion comes under this right. And, this is a contrast to the current MTP Act which does not allow a woman to abort if she simply decides not to have a child or isn’t prepared to have one.

In the end, adopting a medically sound approach is very much required as it will allow women to have safer sexual and reproductive choices and services, thereby protecting their right to privacy and get an opportunity to lead productive lives.

Today, unsafe abortions remain a major cause of maternal deaths in the world. With the International Safe Abortion Day approaching on September 28, let’s work towards inclusive abortion choices for all women, as disallowing abortions doesn’t really stop abortions but instead forces women to seek unsafe abortions through illegal methods. With positive changes and examples from India and other countries such as Irish people’s vote in repealing the 8th Amendment in historic abortion referendum and many others, here’s hoping for safer abortion environments around us.

Start today by addressing this issue in your families and communities! #safeabortion #MyBodyMyChoice

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Priyanka Parashar/Mint via Getty Images.
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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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