With the widely controversial Donald Trump Policy roller coaster both making global headlines and impacting an immediate ripple-effect if you like on women’s abortion rights worldwide, the already heated abortion debate now enters a hard-line period of conflicted exchange in many global countries, developed and undeveloped alike, including of course, the Mother of the East, India.
In 1971, abortion was made legal in India when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed with an aim to reduce illegal abortion and maternal mortality. In a society that frequently considers sexuality as taboo, the MTP act was a welcome move and a validation of a woman’s fundamental right. It also established bodily sovereignty wherein each woman has the sole right to make decisions about what happens to her body. The word ‘abortion’ has always been a sensitive topic. Throughout history, induced abortions have been a source of considerable debate and controversy. Many countries still consider it as murder, while women’s rights insist it to be a woman’s fundamental right to have control over her body.
Here are some things you should know about Abortion in India. So stay safe and well informed.
What is Abortion?
Mainstream Wikipedia defines abortion as the removal or expulsion of an embryo or fetus from the uterus, resulting in, or caused by, its death. This could occur either spontaneously as a miscarriage, or be artificially induced through chemical, surgical or other means.
When can it be done?
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
- 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.
A woman has the right to abort:
- If the woman has a serious disease and the pregnancy could endanger her physical/mental health
- If the continuation of pregnancy could lead to substantial risk to the newborn leading to serious physical / mental handicaps
- If the pregnancy is the result of rape
- If the socio-economic status of the mother hampers the progress of a healthy pregnancy and the birth of a healthy child.
- If the contraceptive device irrespective of the method used (natural methods/ barrier methods/ hormonal methods) failed
- If a woman is married, her own written consent is sufficient. Her husband’s consent is not required
- If a woman is unmarried and over 18, she can provide her own written consent
- If a woman is unmarried and under 18, she must provide written consent from her guardian
- If a woman is mentally unstable, she must provide written consent from her guardian
Where and Who can perform the abortion:
Abortions can be performed in any medical institution that is licensed by the government to perform medically assisted terminations of pregnancy. Such institutions must display a certificate issued by the government.
Abortions must be performed by a doctor with one of the following qualifications:
- A registered medical practitioner who has performed at least 25 medically assisted terminations of pregnancy
- A surgeon who has six months’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A person who has a diploma or degree in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A doctor who was registered before the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and who has three years’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A doctor who registered after 1971 and has been practising in obstetrics and gynaecology for at least a year
Types of Abortion treatment:
There are two types of abortion treatment, ‘Medical’ and ‘Surgical’ abortion:
Medical abortion: A type of non-surgical abortion which involves taking medication to cause an early miscarriage. Abortifacient pharmaceutical drugs made by combination of two medications, mifepristone and misoprostol is an option for women who are 10 weeks pregnant or less.
Abortion pill from 10 weeks up to 24 weeks: Involves taking medication to cause the womb to contract and push out the pregnancy.
Surgical abortion: Surgical abortion is a procedure that ends a pregnancy by removing the fetus and placenta from the mother’s womb and involves a quick, minor operation. There are two types of surgical abortion:
Vacuum aspiration ( first trimester) which removes the pregnancy by gentle suction with local anaesthetic.
Dilation and evacuation is done when an abortion occurs in (second trimester) of pregnancy. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage and the use of surgical instruments (such as forceps) to clear the uterus of fetal and placental tissue.
Evolution of the MTP Act
To understand the issues surrounding abortion in India, it is necessary to contextualise the evolution of the MTP Act, which liberalised abortion laws in India. The MTP was enacted two years before the landmark judgement of the US Supreme Court in Roe v Wade – which held that laws which criminalise all abortions, except those required to save a mother’s life, were unconstitutional and violated the right to privacy of a pregnant woman. But this right should be balanced against the right of the state’s legitimate interest in protecting both the pregnant woman’s health and the potentiality of human life at various stages of pregnancy.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 needs to be amended to better address the varying concerns of Indian women be they rape survivors, married women or sexually active single women.