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The Unsettling State Of Abortion Laws In India

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Even in the 21st century, the term ‘abortion” brings with itself an enormous amount of stigma and dishonour to many cultures of the world. It is extremely terrifying living in a world, where foeticide is still criminalized in most countries as of now. Banning abortion, raises the single most important issue, that how can anyone be truly free if they do not have control over the actions of their bodies?

This further comes in sync with the notions of the right to freedom and privacy and has led to the foundations of many human rights movements since time immemorial.

The infamous Alabama abortion law which criminalized foeticide at any stage of pregnancy furthered the issue of ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ debates amongst many intellectuals and activists. People from the pro-choice section believed that only women should be able to make choices for their bodies and that nobody should try to intervene in that, not even god.

This acts as a direct counterstatement to the religions which consider abortion as ‘unholy’ and disgraceful. The pro-life voices believed in advocating full legal protection of embryos and fetuses irrespective of the opinions of women bearing them. They justify their view by bringing it under the ambit of the ‘right to life’ movement and have often led staunch arguments on those grounds. Another issue raised due to the Alabamian case was that the policymakers of this law happened to be ten men with no women representation on the council.

Some saw this as an entrenched concern of misogyny and felt that men shouldn’t be involved in deciding for women’s bodies. Having said that, the final bill was signed by the governor of Alabama who herself was a lady. As a result of this law, a girl was forced to give birth to her rapist’s child or she would be considered a criminal in the eyes of the law.

What Do Abortion Laws Of India Say?

Coming to the plight of our very own country, abortion is and always has been an alarming issue due to our cultural backdrop. Lack of sex education and increasing information barriers have made our women suffer from fatal and unsafe abortions.

On average, 13 women die because of no access to safe abortions every day and 80% of them remain unaware.

Due to fear of being judged and embarrassed, many young girls end up resorting to methods of self-aborting by taking pills and injections from their local drugstores.

On top of it all, the conflation of sex determination with abortion has furthered the stigma in our urban and rural premises.

Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) criminalized the act of abortion before 1971 and only legalized it to a certain extent after the introduction of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (MTP).

It proposed that it would regulate abortions keeping in mind the safety of the woman’s life. Although, the archaic law failed in achieving its prime objective and in turn ended up perpetuating unsafe abortions which cost many women their lives.

Progressive Amendments To The Medical Termianancy Of Pregnancy Act

Thankfully, recent sets of amendments made to the MTP act on March 2, 2020, introduced in Lok Sabha have turned out to be quite progressive and relatively liberal. The following were some of its amendments:

  • One of the primary amendments made was a major provision that stated that pregnancy may be terminated within 20 weeks of gestation period instead of the earlier fixed 12-20-week pattern, with the approval of two registered medical practitioners. However, this amendment will only apply to ‘specific categories’ of women prescribed by the central government, which is again, a little controversial.
  • Another noteworthy change to the old act was to replace the term used as ‘married woman or her husband’ to ‘woman or her partner’ on the accounts of pregnancy. It tackles the concept of a woman requiring a husband as a prerequisite for being pregnant, which further highlights the notions of pre-marital intercourse with legal consent.
  • The Bill states that no registered medical practitioner will be allowed to reveal the name and details of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated, except to a person authorized by any law or would be punishable by law.

What Steps Can Be Taken To Destigmatise And Dispel Myths Around Abortion?

Abortion is certainly not illegal in India; it is just inaccessible. This makes it even more important for the government to find appropriate measures to tackle the issues of unsafe abortion services down to the roots.

To realize that abortion is not a criminal but a medical concern, we must undertake a multi-pronged approach, which actively attempts to dispel myths around abortion and works systematically towards destigmatizing it as a taboo and making it a matter of #MyBodyMyChoice.

  • The availability of safe abortion services needs to be expanded and popularised on a priority basis. MMA pills (Mifepristone and Misoprostol) needs to be in the Essential Drugs List for all levels under medical guidance.
  • Medically trained staff with the proper equipment should be provided at the beck and call of the citizens at affordable costs so we could avoid the frequency of fatalities.
  • At the grass-root level, the primary health care centres should train Anganwadi and Asha workers with basic abortion practices to increase the accessibility of simple and safe abortive methods making them self-reliant and exercise their right to choose more freely.

In conclusion, abortion is and will be a topic of relevance until all women around the world feel safe and empowered about their rights and choices. All countries together must follow the World Health Organisation’s guidelines for secured and skilled abortions on a global level, to have a synchronized pattern of shielded and affordable abortions to whoever concerned, irrespective of age or cultural bias.

This would then, contribute to broadening the essence of compassion and sensitizing mankind about the intricacies of foeticide as a matter of nothing but choice.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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