Abortion laws in India

How they are changing and what is the effect of it culturally, socially, emotionally, mentally, and overall.

From the Indian perspective, abortion is allowed if the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill first came into effect in the year 1971 and came off the Statute Book as the “The MTP Act. 1971”. As per the said Act, abortions can only be carried out till 20 weeks of conception. This rule was placed in order to prevent sex-selective abortions, which then could only be done post the 20-week mark.

However, with the advancement of technology, the sex of the baby can be determined as early as seven weeks of pregnancy through a new blood test. Also, it can be predicted through chorionic villus sampling (CVS) around the 10th to 12th week and between 15 to 20 weeks by amniocentesis.

Post the 20-week bar

The MTP Act 1971 allows abortions till 20 weeks of pregnancy, however, there are situations where fetal abnormalities or risks to a mother’s life come to light after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In such cases, the Act requires approval from the court and there have been cases where the court gave negative judgment despite the family wanting the abortion.

Additionally, there are cases involving underage rape victims and child assault where the pregnancy may come to light quite late only when the child develops symptoms. The act didn’t take into account that the 20-week ceiling may be close or well past and such cases are more rampant than a rarity.

Amendment to MTP Act 1971

The MTP Act 1971 recently underwent an amendment and the new act places India in the top league of countries serving women who wish to make individual choices from their perspectives. It allows women to seek abortions as part of reproductive rights and gender justice.

With the upper limit of MTP raised from 20 to 24 weeks for women including rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled women, and minors, the new law is now forward looking, empathetic, and looks at a sensitive issue with a human face. Additionally, it acknowledges the failure of contraception and allows medical termination of pregnancy to “any woman or her partner” replacing the old provision for “only married woman or her husband”. The bill will protect the dignity and rights of women and empower them especially those who are vulnerable and victims of rape.

Another important feature of the amendment includes, opinion of only one provider will be required up to 20 weeks of gestation and of two providers for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.

The cultural and societal aspect

The recent bill is a step in the right direction towards the safety and well-being of women and many women are sure to be benefited from this. It aims to provide greater rights to women as abortion is considered an important aspect of the reproductive health of women.

The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure that women in need of terminating pregnancy get the desired autonomy, dignity, confidentiality, and justice in doing so. More so, raising the upper limit of abortion to 24 weeks in special categories will empower women by preserving and protecting their dignity.

As a country, we need to stand strong in the world of cultural competence by making it easier for our women to safely and legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Thereby, the bill to increase the upper limit for terminating a pregnancy showcases the government’s strong determination to accelerate the growth of women equally for expanding access of women to safety.