Advocating for choice in India
In every country where we work, reproductive healthcare is unnecessarily restricted. The anti-choice movement is growing in funding, scale, and sophistication. Undeterred, we partner across the globe to advocate for all women and girls to have reproductive choice – like in India, where we recently successfully campaigned to change the abortion law.
Debanjana Choudhuri is the director of programmes & partnerships for MSI’s programme Foundation for Reproductive Health Services (FRHS) India, pictured second left above. She tells us about a campaign that is changing reproductive rights in India.
When the lawyers in the room heard the verdict, they sent me a WhatsApp message straight away. Years of advocacy had culminated in this moment on 29 September 2022 — India’s Supreme Court declared that all women, married or not, have the right to safe, legal abortion.
For me, nothing could be better than this. I’m a mother of a 9-year-old girl and I advocate for her reproductive rights so she will never be denied the healthcare she needs to thrive. I’m proud to work for MSI in India and to help organise a successful pro-choice advocacy campaign.
It’s called the Pratigya Campaign — a 127 member-strong coalition that advocates for safe and legal access to abortion in India. Our members include feminist, youth, and grassroots organisations like Lok Sahayata Society and The YP Foundation, alongside global support from the likes of Plan International, IPPF, and of course MSI. It’s so powerful to have all these voices under one umbrella.
For ten years we have built a strong alliance, supported abortion providers, changed the legal landscape, and worked with media to remove abortion stigma in reporting. It’s a democratic coalition with no real hierarchy at all, we all contribute our own expertise and support.
MSI brings experience as a global advocate for and provider of safe abortion, known to ‘walk the talk’. MSI recognises that it’s the locals who are the experts; we’re the ones leading this change and fighting for our rights — so MSI resources and trains us and puts the support of the whole global organisation behind us. The participatory approach that says ‘let’s learn together’ is the beauty of MSI.
Back to the big win last year! It started when a law was tabled in 2020 to undergo a review: the 50-year-old Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, written from a colonial perspective and not at all women-centric. This was an opportunity like no other, so we rallied: we developed 10 recommendations for amendments and reached out to policymakers. We had champions from grassroots and youth groups speaking out in the media about why abortion is a right. Our voices were unified, and we spoke up loudly and bravely.
The judges agreed with five of our recommendations including that unmarried women should have access to abortion, and that only one provider should sign off on a procedure rather than two. It’s still not perfect, but it was a watershed moment. After the media buzz died down, I took a moment to celebrate with everyone who had worked so hard for this. But there’s always that voice in the back of my mind reminding me that hard-won rights can be taken away, and that laws need to translate into behaviour. So, we continue onwards to sustain this movement in India, taking on the challenges of shrinking donor funding and a sophisticated opposition.
Advocacy takes time, but luckily there are many determined people and organisations here and across the globe, willing to put in that time.