The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in access to healthcare around the world like never before, with sexual and reproductive health services, including abortion, probably taking one of the worst hits. So to mark yesterday’s International Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion, Love Matters India implemented a multi-faceted campaign highlighting physical, cultural, legal and mental/emotional barriers to abortion in India. Using the hashtag #AbortionIsHealthCare, one of the main aims of the campaign was to help overcome some of these barriers by encouraging people to take a more nuanced view of the issues.
Vithika Yadav, Head of Love Matters India, explains the team’s approach:
“ We decided to focus on abortion from the perspective of a health care decision. Abortion is such a sensitive topic that everyone – law, policy makers, doctors, society, family has an opinion about it but really the opinion that should matter is that of the woman who chooses for abortion. Why can’t a woman decide for herself what is best for her health and well-being and why should anyone else’s opinion matter? ”
The campaign was launched in mid-September with a call to the Love Matters India community to share their views on abortion. An online survey asked just one question: If you had to consider getting an abortion, what will be the first few things on your mind? The lack of knowledge about abortion as a healthcare service, guilt about abortion, lack of partner support and social stigma and judgement were cited as the key concerns and roadblocks to accessing safe and legal abortion. A vox pop video was created sharing some of the answers.
The full data from the online survey can also be seen in an animated video on Love Matters India’s Twitter account.
Abortions ‘compromised’ by lockdown
The concerns expressed by respondents to the survey have all been made worse by COVID-19 according to Yadav:
“A healthcare service that was already stigmatised, marred by lack of good quality care and sufficient resources was further compromised especially as during the early days of the lockdown it was not classified as an essential healthcare service.”
Recent research by the Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) showed that over 1.85 million abortions in India are likely to have been ‘compromised’ due to lockdown measures. India’s lockdown has been lifted – but the challenges remain. Legal impediments, lack of sufficient resources, trained and non-judgmental healthcare professionals and social stigmas all combine to impede access to safe and legal abortion.
To discuss these challenges and potential solutions, Love Matters India organised an online panel discussion with legal and medical experts in the field. The panel discussed the worsening of access to abortion services during the lockdown, whether self-managed abortions at home using the available medications were a way forward, legal hurdles to the process of safe abortion and social stigma when young unmarried women seek an abortion. The discussion is available to watch online.
Myths and stigmas
The Love Matters India team also addressed the social norms and perceptions around abortion via a ‘Flip the Norm’ video series on social media. The series used Bollywood references to abortion and ‘flipped’ the myths propagated in popular culture via comments from popular satirical characters. Users were asked to contribute artwork on safe and legal abortion and Love Matters India featured some of the best work on their social media channels, such as poetry by young feminist Sanya Ghai and these cartoons by Vinyana Khurana.
There is a comprehensive resource on abortion on the Love Matters website in Hindi and English and articles were shared on social media throughout the campaign. The team also shared tips with journalists on how to write about abortion via both social media and email.
On September 28th, the International Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion and the final day of the campaign, Love Matters India enlisted a number of popular Indian celebrities to support the cause using the hashtag #AbortionIsHealthCare. Celebrities taking part included: Neha Bagga, Krip Suri, Manmohan Tiwari , Sudha Chandran and Supriya Kumari