Talking about abortion is something that most women choose not to do, silently reliving the trauma day in and day out. ‘Voice Your Abortion. Defeat Stigma’, an ethical story telling platform, was started a month ago by Surabhi Srivastava to give women a safe space to share their stories, and emotions.
The project’s first story is about a married woman who became pregnant after she had recently given birth to twin babies, and Srivastava worked with the contributor to convert her experience into a web comic.
The platform will enable women to tell their stories in any medium they prefer, whether it is poetry, art, comics, the spoken word or just in writing. Stories will be published on Facebook and Twitter at first, and then on Voice Your Abortion, Srivastava told shethepeople.tv. “It is a platform where the woman decides how much she wants to share and how she wants to share,” she said.
Srivastava personally knows women who have gone through the procedure and seen how difficult it was for them to talk about their complicated experiences openly. “ It is important to provide a space to women where they do not feel judged or stigmatized,” she said.
Until July last year, Srivastava worked for ‘Pria’, a non-profit organisation in Delhi, which works on enforcing the ban on sex determination during pregnancy. She says that there are hardly any open conversations about abortion in the media or even in society. “Abortion rights haven’t been on the feminist agenda in India.”
She wants to bring these issues to the forefront, especially because she feels that there is confusion regarding abortion laws. The Medical Termination Pregnancy Act, which was put in place in 1971, allows abortion only until 20 weeks of pregnancy, and only under certain terms and conditions. Conditions include risk to a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health, and risk of the child suffering from serious handicaps.
She believes that abortion should be available as and when the woman wants to undergo it, and not only under certain terms and conditions. According to the World Health Organisation, 5-6 million illegal abortions take place per year in India.
Additionally, gynaecologists agree that the 20-week timeframe is too narrow because some genetic abnormalities may manifest only after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Recently, Justices V.K. Tahilramani and Mridula Bhatkar of the Bombay High Court said that a women has the right to “lead a life of her choice”, and held that the scope of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act should extend to the “mental health” and she should be “allowed to opt out of an unwanted pregnancy irrespective of the reason”.
Srivastava told shethepeople.tv that she is not scared of backlash. Many advised her not to use the word ‘abortion’ and instead use more neutral words. But she argues that using neutral words just perpetuates the stigma. “My approach is to just start talking about it, put it out there,” she said, adding that she is not afraid of backlash.
Srivastava wants women to share all kinds of stories. It doesn’t matter if they regretted the procedure, or they were happy about it. The focus is more on the women’s feelings and experiences rather than advancing any one political agenda, she said. In countries like the US, personal stories and testimonies have helped shape court judgments on abortion, she said. “Unless we have stories in the public domain, public opinion cannot be changed. No story is the same.”
In future, she wants to take this platform offline, and engage in more talks and conversations related to the issue.
“At the end of the day, confidentiality of the women is of utmost importance,” she emphasizes.