Indian laws on abortions

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Indian laws on abortions

US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade judgement of 1973, which gave women in America the right to have an abortion.

How did abortion laws come about in India?

  • In 1960s, Union government created Shantilal Shah Committee to deliberate on legalisation of abortion in country.
  • To reduce maternal mortality owing to unsafe abortions, Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was brought in 1971.
  • This law is an exception to the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provisions of 312 and 313 and sets out the rules of how and when a medical abortion can be carried out.

How has the MTP Act evolved from 1971 to 2021?

  • Broader amendments to MTP Act were introduced in 2020 and amended Act came into force in September 2021.
  • Under Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, abortion is permitted after medical opinion under stipulated circumstances.
  • It increased the upper limit of the gestation period to which a woman can seek a medical abortion to 24 weeks from 20 weeks permitted in the 1971 Act.
  • But this renewed upper limit can only be exercised in specific cases.
  • Gestational age: medical term to describe how far along the pregnancy is and cxalculated in weeks.
  • MTP could not be accessed on opinion of a single registered medical practitioner up to 20 weeks of the gestational age.
  • From 20 weeks up to 24 weeks, the opinion of two registered medical practitioners is required.
  • If the pregnancy has to be terminated beyond 24-week, it can only be done on grounds of foetal abnormalities if a four-member Medical Board, as set up in each State under the Act, gives permission to do so.
    • In the previous version of the Act, the opinion of one registered doctor was required to access a medical abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, while two doctors were required to endorse the abortion up to 20 weeks.
  • Law provides that if it is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, abortion can be carried out at any time by a single registered medical practitioner.
    • Unmarried women can also access abortion, because it does not mention the requirement of spousal consent.
    • If the woman is a minor, however, the consent of a guardian is required.

Have there been judicial interventions in cases of abortions?

  • In 2017 Right to Privacy judgement in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India and others, SC held that decision by a pregnant person on whether to continue a pregnancy or not is part of person’s right to privacy as well and, therefore, the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • A report by advocate Anubha Rastogi for Pratiya Campaign said that till August 2020, HCs across the country were hearing 243 petitions of women seeking permission to abort.
  • In February this year, Calcutta HC allowed 37-year-old woman, who was 34 weeks into her pregnancy, to get a medical abortion as the foetus was diagnosed with an incurable spinal condition.
  • This judgment allowed abortion for the furthest gestational in the country so far.

Criticisms against the abortion law

  • 2018 Lancet study: 15.6 million abortions were accessed every year in India as of 2015.
  • Shortage of doctors: MTP Act requires abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics.
  • However, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s 2019-20 report on Rural Health Statistics indicates that there is a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India.
  • Illicit abortions: As the law does not permit abortion at will, critics say that it pushes women to access illicit abortions under unsafe conditions.
  • Statistics put the annual number of unsafe and illegal abortions performed in India at 8,00,000, many of them resulting in maternal mortality.

Prelims take away

  • Roe v. Wade judgment of 1973
  • Shantilal Shah Committee
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act , 2021
  • Right to Privacy