I’m Not Guilty Anymore & More Tales of Abortion
(We are republishing this story in the light of the cabinet approving changes to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act that will raise the abortion limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.)
Kums was 29 when she had an abortion. Kavita* (name changed) was 31. “Aren’t I supposed to want kids? I like children. I did want children. But I didn’t want to be a mother. Was I allowed to admit that? Probably not.”
Another woman, choosing to remain anonymous, said she had an abortion in her last year of college because she was not ready yet. Another said she was raped in her marriage and chose to abort.
“I had an abortion but nowhere to talk about it,” was the common refrain.
Abortion is a prickly topic, with many opinions and moral judgments clouding women’s actual, real-life experiences.
“I didn’t think I could talk about it to anyone and yet I wanted to tell the world that I was hurting and didn’t know what to do. But could I talk? Was it shameful? Had I failed? Had I betrayed my body? Did anyone else have an abortion? Did they talk about it? How did they feel? I felt very lonely and angry.”Anonymous submitter on @Induviduality
Kums knew it was the right move as she already had another child, and wanted to prioritise her own health. (“I was already stretched thin!”) Plus, luckily, she had a supportive partner.
“I knew the moment I saw the positive on the pregnancy strip that I was going to abort.” With conflicting emotions and little time to think, Kavita went through with the process alone, “I remember I went alone the first time, I felt dirty, almost as if everyone knew my sordid tale. Everyone there had come with a family member or two. I felt like I had done something wrong and had to quietly get rid of it.”
Giving Women (a Safe) Space
#MyAbortionStory is a online initiative by Global Health Strategies and women’s healthcare organisation, My Body My Choice, wanting to spark a conversation about abortion care, rights and the silenced thing itself.
The aim? To bring abortion out of the shadows of shame and into a shared, safe public space for women to air their stories – their conflicted emotions, their guilt, their relief.
Giving a voice or an illustration to these stories was artist Indu Harikumar.
Abortion is an alienating subject, and so “that’s why this project was important, it humanises the whole thing,” adds Indu.
"It provides space for sensitivity, I understood the need for a safe space to talk and how it makes people feel less alone. Since 2017, I think people have realised that my Instagram is a safe space to talk about intimate, personal things you cant share with your real life friends or family.”
She adds, “I personally connected with this project as I had an abortion but felt alone and didn't have anybody to talk to, because we are not supposed to talk about this.” Intimately knowing the shame of silence, she created a space for women to find solidarity.
Indu shot to fame on Instagram after doing crowd-sourced projects around sexuality, gender and individuality like Identitty where she illustrated stories about breasts or #BodyOfStories, where she collated and illustrated users’ stories of their sexuality.
For each of these projects, she would post the subject and be flooded with responses in her DMs and then she would illustrate them. “I wasn’t sure about this one though,” she tells me. “I didn't know if people would talk, but as usual, in an hour my inbox was flooded with stories,” previously forced to exist without a space.
Comments on her Instagram page reflect just that - women appreciating her giving a platform for an undisclosed, hidden part of women’s sexual experiences.
'I Did Not Tell Anyone Before - But Now, I Don’t Want to Hide’
Kums, the only woman who chose to attach her name to her story, shared a tale of simultaneous confusion and determination. Woven through a story about her supportive partner and her feelings of “raising a goat to be slaughtered,” Kums tells me she knew she wanted an abortion, and despite still not being open with her family, she underlined the fact that it was essentially, her choice.
“I was waiting for a platform to talk about it,”she says.
“When I had an abortion, I didn’t tell my family - it would have involved unnecessary opinions about having another child. They still don’t know, but my friends did and I used to silently support people going through it. But it’s not something to be ashamed of.I didn’t want to hide anymore.”Kums
The anonymous submitter on Instagram writes on the thirst for a space to connect and share the strange mix of emotions an abortion brings with it, “The consequences of social isolation are grim. We all know intuitively that social connections and a sense of belonging are central to being well.”
Kums is from Tamil Nadu, an important detail as her state does not support the selling of the emergency contraceptive pill (i-Pill). “It’s illegal and sold in black at a much higher rate. There are many moral arguments against it’s sale so I didn't know it was available at a more expensive price at all.
Not Always About Guilt
One of the most unique stories on Indu’s feed is from a contributor who writes, I was led to believe that I'd feel differently about abortions once I got pregnant, that I'd feel guilt, but I was still the same. There was no hostility towards this thing inside me, but also no tenderness, no melancholy.”
Talking about abortions is so deeply tied to guilt, that the contributor even wondered if her lack of emotion made her a “bad woman.”
So that’s the power of this project - it provides the space for women to talk of their complex, confusing emotions around the taboo subject. This then takes abortion out of it’s box as we see it as a multi-layered thing, with many associated, valid feelings - beyond just the negatives.
Almost poignantly the contributor asks,
She later finished her thought with, “ I mean, I used to wonder. It doesn't cross my mind anymore." The project asserts and normalises the right of a woman to care for herself, first and foremost, without guilt or shame.
A Cold, Judgmental Outer World
“It’s clinical an impersonal, and I was very worried my gynecologist would judge me and lecture me about my decision,” said Ankita.
Shaming from medical doctors, especially gynecologists isn’t new, and often during an intimate decision like this the threat of going to a unmarried woman’s parents are is also used. “All this when you are already in a vulnerable position,”she added.
Unsolicited advice, especially about children and marriage flows freely too.
Ankita writes, “My doctor then told me that I was growing old, should reconsider the abortion, and that conceiving later maybe difficult. Though I loved the man, I didn’t want a child. I wanted an abortion.”
#Notallgynaecologists though, and Kums recalls she faced a friendly face. “She was very kind and told me about the procedure. I was so clueless. It helped that she was the same one that delivered my first born.”
Navigating familiarity with gynecologists is also a task though, and an anonymous submitter writes that, “There was no way I could go to my usual one. I thought she would judge me.”
Talking About Pain and Misinformation
Women’s pain is much contested subject, from talking about the pain gap to crying ‘hysteria’.
Then, you have misinformation about women’s bodies - often by women themselves. There’s so much kept in the dark, so much unspoken and unasked about your body and it’s processes.
“I didn’t know the abortion would be painful and I would bleed so much,” said Kums.
Questions about the rights and physical procedures involved in an abortion is still elusive to most people. “I became a counsellor to friends and friends of friends who were going through this,” said Kums, “They were asking me everything about it, where to go, what to look for, how it feels.”
My Body My Choice, wanted to open the door to women’s narratives, and through that raise awareness in general about abortions in India, like the often forgotten fundamental fact that yes, it is legal to have an abortion up to 20 weeks in India,
Support is Beneficial But Not Essential - It’s Only About YOUR Choice
Although a matter of female choice, abortion care comes from a strong support system. Most of the stories featured on Indu’s stories (at the time of publishing) refreshingly, feature supportive partners who are able to put the person undergoing the abortion’s choice first and cushion their decision with support. Being on the same page about the decisions can help the woman’s mental health status too.
“I didn’t know you did not need anyone’s consent, I found out only at my doctor’s clinic when we were given a form to sign and there was only room for one signature - that of the person getting the procedure done. . Luckily my partner was on the same page, but I may not have gotten it done if he wasn't as I didn't know it was only my decision.” Kums tell me.
Throughout the project, which is a home to scattered, confused voices feeling alone, rings the same essential message, ‘whatever the reason I’m grateful for choice.’
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