It has been 50 years since the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill or the MTP Bill was passed in 1971, and the most bemusing part about abortion laws in India is that it states everything about abortions, except the child bearer’s right or opinion regarding what to do with her pregnancy.
Even after the latest Amendment in 2020, which introduced a set of changes to the Bill, it still focuses primarily on her medical condition, which is to be decided by a medical expert. Even though abortion is legal in India, there is still a lot of stigma attached to it for unmarried women.
While in Alabama, a newly introduced bill prohibits abortion of the fetus six weeks into the pregnancy, abortion laws in India allow the procedure till 24 weeks of pregnancy. India also takes into account the suffering of a rape survivor and allows legal abortion, among other things. That is a welcome change, for sure.
We talk to experts and find out about the legal and social implications of the abortion laws in India.
The Laws On Medical Termination Of Pregnancy
Abortion laws in India are still very strict and leave no room for loopholes. Let us proceed to understand the different circumstances under which women can undergo an abortion and what the process truly is like.
Women under what circumstances can undergo an abortion in India?
To this, lawyer Nandish Thackar answers, “As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, more specifically Section 3 of the Act is suggestive of the fact that a pregnancy can be terminated essentially under 2 circumstances:
1. When a medical practitioner forms an opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to physical or mental health, or
2.There is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
As an answer to the question that is abortion legal in India for unmarried women, the answer is yes. It is legal under the two circumstances above. For example, if a woman is a victim of rape and a child is a result of the same, then the anguish caused by pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the physical and mental health of a woman.
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Why is court intervention needed for the termination of a pregnancy after 24 weeks?
As per section 3(2) of the Medical Termination of the Pregnancy Act, 1971, it is prescribed that where the term of pregnancy is not exceeding twelve weeks, an opinion of one Medical Practitioner has to be taken if the woman falls under the above mentioned 2 categories.
If the term of pregnancy is more than 12 weeks and not exceeding 20 weeks, then an opinion of 2 medical practitioners is to be taken to satisfy the above criteria. However, the 2020 Amendment has changed the same from 20 weeks to now 24 weeks. Any termination beyond that has to be done with the permission of the Court.
The Court has to consider every aspect i.e. the possibility in terms of medical science, the consequences to the health of a woman. If everything falls in place and the experts opine that it is possible, only then the Courts can permit an abortion after 24 weeks.
Various high courts like Madhya Pradesh, Bombay as well as Gujarat, have considered requests for abortions beyond 20 weeks. One such example is the case of Priti Mahendra Singh Rawal Vs. Union of India, the Bombay High Court permitted a 26-weeks fetus to be terminated.
In the said case, the Bombay High Court constituted a committee of Medical Experts. Based on the opinion of these experts, the High Court permitted the Termination of Pregnancy under the supervision of the Medical Board.
What Do The Amendments Of The MTP Act Mean?
According to the Amendment to the MTP Bill in 2020, the following changes have been made to the abortion laws in India to suit and accommodate more pregnancy situations in the country:
- Victims of rape and incest as well as differently-abled can seek medical help for abortion till up to 24 weeks into the pregnancy
- If a medical board or the doctor diagnoses any kind of substantial abnormality in the fetus, the woman can seek abortion at any time during the pregnancy
- If the pregnancy hasn’t exceeded 20 weeks, a woman can seek medical help to abort the fetus by consulting only one medical practitioner
- Personal details of anyone undergoing abortion will be kept confidential and their privacy will be given utmost importance
Private Clinics For Abortion In India
It is no secret that several private abortion clinics exist in India. Is that a good thing or bad?
Expert Snigdha Mishra answers, “India is a medical tourism hub. This means that there are world-class medical facilities available. Having said that, from small towns to semi-urban and urban cities, there are multiple small private clinics that provide these services and not all of them are shady. They do give decent and affordable medical care. This also makes medical care more accessible.
“However, many of these clinics also work solely as abortion clinics. With female feticide, a chronic issue in India’s societal fabric, many of these clinics do prove to be safe havens for this illegal and cruel act.
“If a woman is in genuine need of an abortion, she must choose a medical facility that operates within the legal realm and offers quality care. As long as medical care is efficient, it doesn’t matter where you are getting an abortion done.”
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Sometimes women in India are forced to go through abortion after illegal determination of the sex of the fetus. What is your opinion on this?
“It is unlawful and people who do it must be jailed. It’s hardcore patriarchy that enables this, apart from obvious loopholes in our medico-legal system regarding the abortion act in India. Since both determinations of the sex of the fetus and feticide are crimes, there’s no doubt that all parties involved must be taken to task. But more important than this is to understand and change the mindset that enables such acts,” she adds.
On the abortion procedure
The abortion procedure itself is also something that a woman should be aware of before signing up for it. Below, you will be able to understand what are the various forms of abortion and how to go about the same.
What is an abortion pill?
An abortion pill is used to carry out a medical abortion, which is a type of non-surgical termination of pregnancy. This is different from emergency contraceptive pills. The abortion pill is the common name for using two different medicines to end a pregnancy: Mifepristone and Misoprostol, says Dr. Sharmila Majumder.
First, you take a pill called Mifepristone. Pregnancy needs a hormone called progesterone to grow normally. Mifepristone blocks your body’s own progesterone, stopping the pregnancy from growing.
Then, you take the second medicine, Misoprostol, either right away or up to 48 hours later. This medicine causes cramping and bleeding to empty your uterus. It’s kind of like having a really heavy, crampy period, and the process is very similar to an early miscarriage.
How effective is the abortion pill?
For people who are 8 weeks pregnant or less, it works about 94-98 out of 100 times.
For people who are 8-9 weeks pregnant, it works about 94-96 out of 100 times.
For people who are 9-10 weeks pregnant, it works about 91-93 out of 100 times.
You usually can get a medical abortion within 70 days (10 weeks) of your LMP or Last Menstrual Period (the first day of your last period).
What are the possible complications of oral medication for abortion?
Some possible complications of the oral medications are:
- The abortion pills don’t work and the pregnancy doesn’t end
- Some of the pregnancy tissue may be left in your uterus
- Blood clots in your uterus
- Bleeding too much or too long leading to infections
- Allergic reaction to one of the medicines.
What are the costs of abortion?
Typically, an abortion that involves medicines costs about Rs. 5,000 in India, whereas a surgical termination of pregnancy involving procedures like dilation and curettage (DNC) can cost between Rs 25,000 and 30,000. So, the cost varies from case to case, depending on how far the pregnancy has progressed and what procedure the doctor recommends based on a woman’s health parameters.
Abortion laws in India are progressive
- Is the progressive abortion law a major relief to rape survivors?
Prachi Vaish says that when a woman is raped, it leaves life-long scars on her psyche which takes years to heal. If she gets pregnant in the process, she not only has to come to terms with her rape, she also has to carry the seed of her tormentor inside her, and not allowing her to abort it is forcing her to live with a reminder of her rape for life.
It is also extremely unfair to the fetus if it becomes a baby and is born because he/she will always be a victim and product of a crime. Therefore, yes, the progressive abortion law is a sigh of relief to both rape victims and the unsuspecting unborn children of rape who may be subject to a life of further trauma for no fault of their own.
- Are young couples and teenagers misusing the abortion laws in India?
Life coach Joie Bose disagrees: Abolishing abortion is the most regressive step that can ever be taken and highly unacceptable at this phase of human development. This is as blatant as I can get and there is no better way of putting this.
At one level, this shows how society remains innately anti-sexuality. Let us admit a baby is not a gift from God but a result of “a heated night of passion”. Well, night or day or morning!
No protection is 100% safe. And having sexual desires is something that has been programmed into our genetic code. It is at its peak amongst younger people when compared to the old but it’s something no one can deny ever having felt.
Science has enough proof to show that humans are not essentially monogamous. Keeping all these things in mind if by chance a woman gets pregnant, an abortion is the most responsible action that can be taken.
Why should she allow her body to “suffer” a pregnancy? Why should a child be a “burden” for a man where he is unable to be a proud father? Pregnancy must be cherished by both parents of the child, if not,then abortion is the only way.
No child ever deserves unloving parents. And no man or woman should be forced into raising a child. The lawmakers should remember that they are not doing anything to help raise the child. Nor are they doing anything to help the single mother/single father.
As a life coach, I have found that the most depressed and most under-confident people are those who are unappreciated by their family. Being an unwanted child causes severe depression. If a parent can’t take responsibility to ensure the child’s emotional nourishment, they should never bring the child into this world. Most sad are people who feel unloved.
If you look at it, banning abortion is another way to subjugate the woman for nurturing the baby becomes her responsibility as the child’s ‘natural guardian’. A woman must be given the option to choose motherhood and if the state bans abortion, they must take the onus of providing for the child in every way possible.
The lawmakers are mostly still men. The lawmakers are mostly still old. The abortion law affects the lawmakers least. It just becomes an agent of controlling those who are less powerful than them.
Medically and surgically, the abortion can be done till 24 weeks of pregnancy. In exceptional cases, mostly in cases of medical emergencies, can the abortion be done after 24 weeks.
Abortion was legalized in India in 1972.