Last week, the Indian Cabinet increased the upper limit for the termination of pregnancies to 24 weeks. This is a huge relief for many across the country. Previously, people have been forced to carry out pregnancies or risk unsafe abortions as a result of legal limits.
I work for Hidden Pockets, a feminist collective connecting young people in Indian cities with abortion service providers.
A bunch of young women set up the collective in response to the Nirbhaya case. In 2012, a young woman was brutally assaulted and raped on a bus in South Delhi. She later died from her injuries.
Afterwards, increased CCTV was set up around the country, but nobody seemed to be thinking about providing services. Hidden Pockets started as a response to a need for a new ecosystem. Young people need to be able to find information when they need it. They also need access to services when and where they require them, in the right languages and formats.
In India, abortion services come under the purview of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1972). This basically means if a young person requires an abortion, they need a registered doctor to approve it. In a country like India, where sex is a huge taboo, it is extremely difficult to find doctors who will provide non-judgemental services.
This is where the Hidden Pockets Careline works miracles for many young people. We provide real time information and refer young people to services via WhatsApp.
We only connect people to clinics that have been personally audited by our team, or to networks of doctors who have been sensitised on the issue of reproductive health care.
We are also super active on Instagram, where we hold weekly ‘Friday Conversations’. These are safe online spaces for young people to discuss their issues. We moderate the conversations, sharing information in a manner young people have told us they like.
A lot of young people connect with us on our Careline because they fear being judged in traditional settings. They worry about being exposed, or of their parents being called. Some end up at risk from unsafe abortions carried out by fake doctors or with doctors who blackmail them for huge amounts of money. Single people who are unmarried often fall into these traps.
Because of the level of risk, being able to work in smaller towns in Mysore and Bellary is really important for us. Through our SAAF funded project – “Abortion is Care” – we will also work in small towns in Karnataka to ensure that we reach more people and provide them with accurate information in their local languages.
The Indian government has approved raising the upper limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
It is very important to acknowledge the role public health professionals, activists, and youth led groups like ours have played in this. By talking about the needs of young people on the ground and raising awareness of how limiting the current law has been, we have made real progress.
The current abortion time limit of 24 weeks might sound radical to some, but based on our work, we know that young people often reach out to us on the borderline of 24 weeks. But it is not enough to change the law. We need to connect with young people and to educate them about their rights. We have to ensure that they are able to access services without fear of being judged.
Laws alone can’t bring change, what we need is to tackle the stigma around abortion and ensure that no young women is forced to continue a pregnancy or risk an unsafe abortion due to fear of the law.
Hidden Pockets Collective is a Safe Abortion Action Fund grantee partner.