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Do You Need Permission To Have An Abortion In India? Heck No!

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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.

By Susmita Barman:

Twenty-year-old Aruna* died a thousand deaths before stepping inside an abortion clinic. A messy relationship went wrong plus conflicting emotions, and thoughts surrounding abortion tormented her. Is abortion right, or wrong? Legal or illegal? Questions gripped her mind like a leech. Shaky and sans support, there are lakhs like Aruna who lack correct information and guidance on abortion.

In reality, abortion is legalised in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. Yet, stereotypes, myths, and taboos persist, twisting and distorting our perceptions. I’m at my seat’s edge feeling restless, whenever I read awful stories of women suffering due to myths, taboos, and no awareness. I’m doing a small reality check to bust myths and build a gateway of awareness.

Abortion requires permission

I read somewhere how Lalitha* suffered unnecessarily because her husband refused “permission” for her to undergo an abortion. I found this news appalling. Isn’t it all about Lalitha’s body and her decision? That’s exactly what the law says, too. The MTP Act gives a woman the liberty to terminate her pregnancy at her will and without the consent of her husband or family members, provided she’s an adult. When a woman goes under the knife or lies on the operation table, her husband or family members are required to give their consent. The MTP Act is an exception and a step towards empowering women. Unfortunately, do young women like Aruna and Lalitha have access to such an important piece of information on the legal aspects of abortion?

Women who undergo abortion are selfish

“Oh! She did an abortion because pregnancy would ruin her figure.” This is our skewed and prehistoric perception. Anti-abortion supporters will support this, but my view clings to logic and reasoning. An abortion happens only when the pregnancy is unwanted, or the woman is under physical, mental, financial or psychological stress and chooses to abort the foetus. It isn’t always a lifestyle question or a matter of maintaining an hourglass figure. We need to think logically and differently and educate shallow minds which attack and label women.

Abortion is a crime. Therefore, license to attack!

50 years have passed since the MTP Act, yet, a section of the society emphasises only the life that is destroyed, i.e. the foetus. This gives abortion its crime status. It also leaves the woman or girl to suffer, mostly silently devoid of any support system. I feel it’s equally important to understand and support the woman or girl who undergoes an abortion. I remember reading a post on the SHEROES app where a woman opened up anonymously about her struggles when trying to get an abortion – the stigma, the judgement and the stress – she mentioned that chatting with counsellors on the Ask SHEROES counselling chat helpline helped her get emotional support and legal information about her rights.  Creating awareness about the law is such an important aspect, yet, we have a few spaces to do this.

A woman’s body is her business!

A clear and straight perception on any women’s issue reflects society’s progressive mindset. Let’s have a women-friendly society which understands that a woman’s body is her prerogative. Her choice and decision to undergo abortion warrants respect and not criticism. As a mother, I wish to impart this understanding to my teenage daughter someday because it’s imperative to learn about abortion before being judgemental. I think mothers can play a crucial role in banishing myths and stereotypes, but for that, they need to be aware.

The other day my daughter asked about abortion. I told her facts not myths.

* Names changed to protect privacy

About Susmita Barman:

I’m a SHEROES community member who believes in impacting young girls and women the right way for a better and progressive tomorrow. I’ve worked as a facilitator doing groundwork in early childhood education and developed K5 skill sets for an e-learning app. A happy-go-lucky mommy whose 15-year-old daughter is like a buddy. An uncompromising Bollywood fan and a die-hard foodie, writing is my superpower and content writing, my profession. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.

                               SHEROES Communities for women are accessible via Sheroes.com and the SHEROES app
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  1. Rohini Prajapati

    I am so much in favour of abortion, but sadly women make it a hush hush topic. We can take decision about our body..that’s my right

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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