Abortions happen every day, in every country of the world. Over half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion, with WHO estimating that around 56 million abortions take place globally each year.
Access to safe abortion is essential because there is enormous unment need of contraceptives and it is detrimental to women’s choice, and reproductive autonomy. During emergencies like the Covid-19 pandemic, such access becomes even more critical. The national lockdown also includes travel restrictions that many countries have imposed. This means it will impede contact with medical providers and pharamacies leading to reduced access to contraception of all kinds, including implants. These realities of women are bound to be compounded with the looming threat of reduced supply of commodities that global suppliers are already warning off!
While the speed with which governments like the US have suspended abortion care during the pandemic highlights the fragility of abortion services, the efforts that we see in Poland today reaffirms the power of collectives, and more importantly the power of women’s collectives. The proposed ban imposed on abortion services in Poland stands thwarted by women’s groups, activists and rights advocates. While street protests are not possible, as Poland banned group gatherings , women, activists and campaigners took to social media and launched a “lockdown virtual demonstration” under the hashtag #ProtestAtHome. What the Polish experience indicates is
that ‘’rights” and especially women’s reproductive rights and autonomy cannot be locked down. When opposition heightens, activists and collectives find new means of expression and protest.
The Polish example has important lessons for our region. South Asia has the advantage of a vibrant civil society movement with a leading space occupied by women’s
organisations which have rallied together to bring in significant changes in the policy environment. The recent example in India of affirmative amendments to the Medical Termination
of Pregnancy (MTP) spearheaded by rights groups is a clear example. The examples that we are seeing from Poland, or
UK where government has changed regulation on abortion pills for enabling its accessibility is a two way learning. First that women’s right and bodily integrity is under increased threat during the COVID19 times. Second that women are unstoppable when it comes to bodily autonomy. They can defy these threats despite the lockdowns. For Asia, countries such as Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives where the category under which abortion is permissible continues to be extremely restrictive, it is high time to segregate states intervention from woman’s autonomy. The learnings from the success of women in Poland is a call for action for a vibrant and modern women’s movement in the region.
The power of the collective has never been this important as it is now. The time is opportune to find new mediums and expressions to affirm that women’s rights and reproductive autonomy cannot be under a lockdown!
Authored by –
Mr Deepesh Gupta (Sr Project Advisor SRHR and Focal Point Abortion); Ms Aprajita Mukherjee (Senior Project Advisor OLE and Focal Point Gender), Ms Neha Chauhan (Sr Technical Advisor, Advocacy and Accountability),