Under the ambit of Indian Law, the Indian Penal Code of 1860 was the first legal instrument to address abortions. It criminalized them and included severe punitive measures against the woman and the abortion provider. With time, this created a path for the occurrence of septic abortions. The government then constituted the Shantilal Shah Commission in 1966, to look into the issue. Based on their recommendations, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was passed by the Parliament in 1971. Through this legislation, certain pregnancies can be terminated by registered medical practitioners and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. With this legislation in place, an adult woman’s consent alone is enough for the performance of an abortion.

By this legislative provision, in India, pregnancies can be terminated in the following instances:

  • When they do not exceed 12 weeks may be terminated based on a single opinion formed in good faith.
  • When they do exceed 12 weeks but are less than 20 weeks, termination needs opinion of two doctors

The law mandates that only a Registered Medical Practitioner as defined by the MTP Act, can provide surgical abortion and prescribe the drugs. A pregnancy may be terminated for the following indications:

  • If the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical and mental health.
  • If there is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
  • If the pregnancy alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape.
  • If the pregnancy results from a failure of any device used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose for limiting children.

By law, the woman cannot request an abortion on her own but the responsibility rests with the medical practitioner to opine in good faith regarding the presence of a valid legal indication. Such a provider-dependent policy may sometimes result in denial of abortion care to women in need, especially the more vulnerable amongst them. While the MTP Act permits women seek legal termination of an unwanted pregnancy for a wide range of reasons, the clause about contraceptive failure applies only to married woman.

Join us all through this month for an in-depth look at Safe Abortions in India.