21st November 2019
In 2018, it was estimated that 13 women in India die each day because of unsafe abortions. Despite being legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) since 1971, 80 per cent of women in India are unaware that abortion within 20 weeks is legal. This is because of the shame and stigma associated with abortion, and the severe lack of information available to women about their own bodies.
The ‘My Body My Choice’ campaign was launched in August of 2019, with the aim of creating a safe space for Indian women to discuss abortion and tell their stories. In doing so, the campaign hopes to end the stigma surrounding abortion and dispel the shame and taboo that society associates with it. The campaign is run by a coalition of partners, including Agents of Ishq, Global Health Strategies, Centre for Reproductive Rights and Youth Ki Awaaz, and brings together stories and fact-based information on a platform where women across India can access it.
The campaign relayed the stories of 25 women across India alongside beautiful illustrations created by Indu Harikuma. The text and the illustrations together tell the story of how these women found out they were pregnant, and the events that followed. At the end of last year, the campaign had reached over 80 million people. Nidhi Dubey, Vice President of Global Health Strategies, tells VICE “My biggest hope for the campaign is that it gives voice to more women and girls who are too often silenced… If conversations continue to take place in whispers, policy reforms to make safe and legal abortion more accessible will remain an uphill battle”.
The country now seems to be heading in the right direction, as in late January 2020 the Union Cabinet amended the MTP. The amendment raised the upper limit of MTP from 20 to 24 weeks, and failure of contraception is acknowledged – making MTP available for “any woman or her partner”, not just “only married woman or her husband”. Chitra Subramaniam of Health Express describes the new law as “forward looking, empathetic and looks at a very sensitive issue with a human face”.
While this advancement cannot be directly linked to the successes of the ‘My Body My Choice’ campaign, it is clear that providing a platform to share information goes a long way in helping us make the right choices and encouraging us to treat each other with compassion. “Everything that is ridden with shame makes us feel alone, when we share about our shame, we are changing the narrative and freeing ourselves and enabling others”, says Indu Harikuma.