Status of abortion laws in India

Majority of women unaware of MTP law in India


May 30, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Even with the existence of the MTP Act, the number of unsafe abortions outnumbers the safe, legal procedures

It is nearly five decades since the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act legalised abortion, but 80 pc of women in India are still unaware of the fact. It still remains a taboo topic and is associated with negative attitude and stigmas.

The recent anti-abortion ‘Heartbeat’ law passed in Georgia outlaws all abortions conducted once the doctor detects a heartbeat, which is usually about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. While India has been liberal to legally recognise abortion nearly five decades ago, the lack of knowledge and awareness leads them to the unsafe and illegal practitioners.

It is estimated that from 2014, approximately  36 abortions occur each year per 1000 women aged 15-44 in developing regions, and 27 in developed regions. But the World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that 45 pc of all abortions globally are unsafe, which adds up to a staggering number of 25 million unsafe abortions, causing 6.9 million women to be treated for complications arising from unsafe abortions annually.

A recent research has also revealed that 13 women die in India due to unsafe abortion related issues daily and nearly 6.4 million pregnancies are terminated yearly in India. Among this 80 pc of the women are unaware of the fact that abortion is legal in India and thus limit their chances of seeking safe abortion services. The law also states that a woman who is an adult does not need consent from anyone else for abortion, but the exact opposite happens in India.

Conditions under which abortions are permitted in India

In India, legal abortion is performed under four situations and can be only done if a doctor approves the termination and is not a right exercised by a woman solely by her own decision. Moreover, if the abortion takes place in the first trimester, the women would need one doctor’s consent but if it exceeds that period then she will need two doctors to approve the procedure.

A woman will be allowed to terminate her pregnancy if its continuation poses some risk to her physical or mental health, or if the foetus has severe abnormalities, or if the pregnancy occurred due to failure of contraception (but only applicable to married women) or in case of sexual assaults or rape.

Though MTP states that an adult woman has the authority to decide for herself yet women are asked to have the consent of their husband or families before the procedure.

If it is legal, then why is the rate of unsafe abortion so high?

Even with the existence of the MTP Act, the number of unsafe abortions outnumbers the safe, legal procedures. The most common factor influencing this is the abortion-related stigma and misconceptions. There is a negative attitude associated with abortion and sometimes people are even bullied and marginalised for being involved in abortion care.

While talking with Media India Group, a gynaecologist from a reputed government hospital in Kolkata, who didn’t want to be named said, “There is a certain lack of awareness not only about the process of abortion but also effective contraceptives. People have misconceptions regarding the copper intrauterine device (IUD) due to unawareness and sometimes even religious beliefs influence their thoughts. They also try to avoid hospitals during accidental conceptions to avoid getting IUD and end up going to quacks who provides them the MTP kit at low price and without prescription.”

“This kind of low-cost processes sometimes may lead to incomplete abortion which those inexperienced quacks try to cover up with different medicine. By the time the women come to the hospital for treatment, they end up getting infections and complications which affects their reproductive health in future,” he added.

There is a need for increase in awareness regarding contraception and abortion at all levels of society along with a need to be strengthened to help protect the women’s right of control over their own body.

Feminism in India, an award-winning digital intersectional feminist media organisation along with Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP) have been campaigning with #AbortionMeraHaq (abortion is my right) in demand of safe, legal and affordable abortions for all who require it, because safe abortions save lives.

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