It’s Been 50 Years Since India’s Abortion Law Was Passed. Where Do We Stand Now?

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This week, the state of Texas passed an abortion law that prohibits women from opting for legal abortion after six weeks of pregnancy—well before most women will even know that they are pregnant. While the law is being met with an uproar, with many calling it an unconstitutional infringement on human rights, back in India, we stand with a recently amended abortion law that still gives doctors more accessibility than women.

Passed in 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act allows women to opt for abortion on the grounds of contraceptive failure. Post its recent amendment in 2021, abortion can be performed until 24 weeks of pregnancy, for special cases. While the earlier law stated that only a ‘married woman and her husband’ could opt for abortion, the marital status clause has now been removed. All pregnancies up to 20 weeks require one doctor’s approval, and between 20-24 weeks requires approval from two doctors.

“There is a need for increasing access of women to legal and safe abortion services in order to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity caused by unsafe abortions,” said health minister Harsh Vardhan during the Rajya Sabha debate on March 16, 2021.


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Unlike 73 counties that allow women to get an abortion on their request, India’s law leaves the decision making to the doctor. So if you wish to have an abortion, and your doctor says no, that’s that. The key problem with this is that doctors in India are often reported to have operated from a place that is not purely medical. Several reports suggest that women are denied abortion based on moral grounds. Doctors often insist on the woman bringing along their partner or their parents for the procedure. In such a scenario, women are left with no option.

The pandemic has added to the burden for women who may not have access to the law-required medical professional’s permission or adequate healthcare facilities. In the first three months of the pandemic, 1.85 million women in India couldn’t access abortion services, according to the non-profit IPAS Development Foundation.

In India, a 2015 report states that 15.6 million abortions were performed annually, out of which 78% (or 12.3 million) were conducted outside health facilities and are termed unsafe abortions. More than half the abortions in India are unsafe, and 10 Indian women die daily due to unsafe abortion, as per a 2015 report by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

The law in India currently does not allow a woman to decide for her own pregnancy, instead gives her a set of conditions with the ultimate decision in the hand of doctors and the medical board. Do we need a change? Most definitely. Are we getting it? That’s an ongoing battle.

- Editor In Chief


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