Over the past month or so, my phone has been abuzz, almost every day, with Google alerts about news stories related to abortion. Surprisingly, most have been from mainstream (English language) Indian newspapers, either reporting about the filing of court cases by women to secure an abortion beyond the legal limit of 20 weeks, as mandated by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), aka the abortion law in India, or about the court’s decision on these cases.
Although the flurry of such news is an exciting sign of the media’s increasing interest in covering an issue that has long been ignored, most of the reporting still largely focuses on the woman being compelled to approach the court to make a decision pertaining to her own body, usually under an extreme circumstance, thereby leading to a perception that such cases are rare occurrences that are somehow “deserving” of being reported because of their “shock value”.
What’s left out, however, is the broader conversation about the stigma and shame and simply lack of information around abortion. This is what prevents thousands of women from standing up and speaking about a perfectly valid and routine aspect of their healthcare, even when we know that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion in her lifetime.
What’s left out is the explanation of how patriarchal notions and norms around gender and sexuality perpetuate and reinforce the stigma, shame and silence around abortion, thereby making abortion a part of the bigger web of interconnected oppressions that confront women and other minorities day in and day out.
What’s left out is the ridiculousness that women can’t exercise their bodily autonomy, and instead must depend on doctors and judges to make decisions pertaining to their body, sexuality and life.
What’s also left out is that, how, by refusing to trust women to make their own decisions, especially about their bodies and trajectories of their reproductive lives, society repeatedly violates our bodily rights and integrity and undermines our inherent value as people.
Therefore, today, on February 14, as we rise collectively, as part of One Billion Rising, to speak out and demand an end to all forms of violence, be it physical, emotional, economic or sexual violence, we ought to also demand an end to the controls and denials that women continue to face.
We ought to demand an end to the violation they face when they are denied access to safe, legal, available and free abortion services. The violation they face when they are condemned to feel guilty and ashamed for a decision they made, and are “expected” to ask for forgiveness and feel remorseful. The violation they face when a routine healthcare procedure is politicized by those who will never become pregnant.
So, let’s rise!! Let’s demand an end to this!! Let’s re(claim) our bodies and lives!
And, let’s demand unapologetic access to safe, legal, available and free abortion services!
For every woman. Everywhere.