Abortion in India
Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations which are broadly defined as:
- the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health, or
- 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.
Recently, the Supreme Court permitted a rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy at 24 weeks, which is beyond the permissible 20 weeks limit prescribed under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
In many parts of India, daughters are not preferred and hence sex-selective abortion is commonly practised, resulting in an unnatural male to female population sex ratio due to millions of developing girls selectively being targeted for termination before birth.
The Indian Penal Code, enacted in 1860 and written in accordance with contemporaneous British law, declared induced abortion illegal. Induced abortion was defined as purposely "causing miscarriage". The penalty for abortion practitioners was either three years in prison, or a fine, or both; for the woman availing of an abortion, the penalty was either seven years in prison, or a fine, or both. The only exception was when abortion was induced in order to save the life of the woman.
The prevalence of illegal abortions, combined with the idea that abortion could be a mode of population control, caused the government to reconsider the law. In 1964, the Central Family Planning Board of the Government of India met and formed a committee to examine the subject of abortion from the medical, legal, social, and moral standpoints. The Abortion Study Committee, headed by Mr. Shantilal Shah (health minister of Maharashtra) submitted its report in December 1966. This report suggested that the penal code was too restrictive and recommended that the exemptions under which abortion was permissible be increased and liberalised. Many of the report's suggestions were included in the subsequent Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.
1971 and beyond
The Indian abortion laws falls under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in the year 1971 with the intention of reducing the incidence of illegal abortion and consequent maternal mortality and morbidity. The MTP Act came into effect from 1 April 1972 and was amended in the years 1975 and 2002.
Pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks may be terminated based on a single opinion formed in good faith. In case of pregnancies exceeding 12 weeks but less than 20 weeks, termination needs opinion of two doctors. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of India clearly states the conditions under which a pregnancy can be ended or aborted, the persons who are qualified to conduct the abortion and the place of implementation. Some of these qualifications are as follows:
- Women whose physical and/or mental health were endangered by the pregnancy
- Women facing the birth of a potentially handicapped or malformed child
- Pregnancies in unmarried girls under the age of eighteen with the consent of a guardian
- Pregnancies in "lunatics" with the consent of a guardian
- Pregnancies that are a result of failure in sterilisation
Unsafe abortions are killing a woman every two hours in India (which is approximately 4000 deaths a year), according to estimates and calculations correlating data on maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and Sample Registration System (SRS) data by Ipas, India, an international NGO working on increasing access to safe abortion services. A Lancet paper in 2007 said there were 6.4 million abortions, of which 3.6 million or 56 per cent were unsafe. Ipas has calculated this based on the latest population and crude birth rates (CBR) which peg the number of induced abortion at 5,007,932 According to Census 2011, abortion taking place in institution varies from 32.0% in Chhattisgarh to 73.9% in Assam.
Pre-natal diagnostic techniques like Medical Ultrasonography are capable of determining the sex of the fetus. In many parts of India, daughters are not preferred and hence sex-selective abortion is commonly practised, a form of Gendercide, resulting in an unnatural male to female population sex ratio due to millions of developing girls being terminated before birth. According to The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002 the following are cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offences
- Conducting or associating or helping to conduct Pre-Natal Diagnostic tests for determining the sex of the foetus.
- Sex selection on a woman or a man or both on any tissue, embryo, conceptus fluid or gametes derived from either or both of them
- Advertisement or communication in any form in print, by electronic media or internet by units, medical professionals or companies on the availability of sex determination and sex selection in the form of services, medicines, or any kind of techniques.
Providers are punishable by three years imprisonment and a Rs. 10,000 fine (five years imprisonment and a Rs. 50,000 fine for subsequent offence); those who seek aid are punishable with a term that may extend to three years and a fine that may extend to Rs 50,000 for the first offence and for any subsequent offence with imprisonment which may extend to five years and with fine which may increase to Rs. 100,000.
Unsafe abortions continue to outnumber safe and legal abortions. The Central government constituted an expert committee in the year 2010 to make recommendations.
- The Economist. The War on Baby Girls: Gendercide. 4 March 2010 http://www.economist.com/node/15606229
- Chandrasekhar, S. India's Abortion Experience Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 1994.
- "India". UN. Retrieved 30 March 2014.
- "Medical Termination of Pregnancy, 1971". Medindia.com. Retrieved 10 December 2008.
- Medical abortion information for women in Hindi language The International Consortium for Medical Abortion (ICMA) Information Package on Medical Abortion