In 1971, the increasing cases of maternal morbidity due to unsafe abortions, and the idea that abortions could be used as a method of population control motivated the government to enact the medical termination of pregnancy act. But what does the law really say? to what extent is abortion a reproductive right in india?
Here are the facts you need to know about the indian law on abortion:
1. Access to abortions is legal in india
medical termination of pregnancy has been legal in india under certain conditions since the passage of the act in 1971. India became one of the first few countries to actually legalise abortions beyond just life-threatening situations. Pretty cool, right?
However, a survey conducted in 2007 by the ministry of health and family welfare suggests that only 22.9% of men, and 28% of women were aware that medical abortions are possible and available! a large number of people still remain unaware that by law, they have the right to access abortions.
2. Although abortions are legal, there are certain conditions to be kept in mind…
While abortions are legal in india, the law as it stands today does not allow termination of pregnancy on the request of a woman. In india, abortions are legal up to 12 weeks with approval from one service provider and beyond 12 weeks to 20 weeks requires the approval of two service providers.
There are some other conditions listed in the act: you can get an abortion if the service provider is able to assess that there is a risk to the woman’s life, a threat to a women's physical and mental health (including contraceptive failure for married women), or risks the child if born to be “seriously handicapped”. Frankly, the conditions are pretty inclusive and whatever the situation, the service provider is your friend.
3. Medical abortions and surgical abortions? yes, there are two types!
Medical abortion is a common terminology for abortions induced by the use of pills. An abortion within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy in india can be legally performed using a combination of 2 pills. These pills are available in a combi-pack and are to be taken in the span of 3 days. Medical abortion is completely safe, non-invasive, non-surgical and - as you may have already guessed - a much preferred method of seeking abortion for majority women. These pills should be prescribed to you by a medical practitioner or an obgyn licensed to perform abortions as per the mtp act. Therefore, be quick and consult your ob-gyn! do not do the mistake of consuming these pills yourself as they can give rise to complications which may sometimes be really serious.
A surgical abortion on the other hand ends a pregnancy by removing the foetus and placenta from the uterus using either electric or manual vacuum aspiration. Although these terms sound very technical, advancements in technology have made these procedures completely safe! your doctor is your best guide so do consult them. Just make sure you get quality service in a safe environment from a trained doctor. 3 magic words - quality, safe and trained.
4. You don’t need parental or spousal consent if you’re an adult.
At times like these, you can thank the universe for being an adult! as an adult person and when it comes to seeking safe abortion access in india, you do not need anyone else’s permission. The act recognises the personhood of a woman and respects the rights of an adult person in india by maintaining confidentiality.
5. The mtp act is separate from the law on gender biased sex selection.
And there are 2 separate laws for these 2 unrelated issues! makes sense yet?
Safe abortion access is an issue of reproductive and sexual rights where a woman makes choices and decisions regarding her body and life. On the other hand, gender biased sex selection is an issue of deep rooted gender based discrimination against women and girls in the patriarchal indian society which needs to be targeted at it’s root. The first is regulated by the medical termination of pregnancy act, 1991 and the second by the pcpndt act, 1994.
We are not making this up! if you read the 2 laws, then you will find that mtp act has no mention of gender biased sex selection and pcpndt does not mention access to safe abortion anywhere. See?
Now that we understand that the two are separate from one another, let’s become advocates and stop this overlapping of the 2 issues and stigmatising safe abortion access. Because if we don’t then women may end up losing their lives for nothing.
Have a look at this document by the national health mission highlights areas of possible conflation between the two acts. It gives guidelines to stakeholders so that the pcpndt act and messaging against sex-selective abortion do not hinder access.
6. The law and how it relates to single unmarried women
The conditions mentioned in the mtp act also covers single unmarried adult women. Except for one clause reserved for married women which is abortion because of contraceptive failure. For all other reasons listed above, single women can access abortions. It is mostly because of the stigma associated with being a single woman that some service providers stigmatise abortions being sought by them, leading women to feeling humiliated or deterring them from accessing safe abortion services.