Abortion Laws in India


A Supreme Court Bench says an unborn child has rights, and a woman’s autonomy is also important.

In India, pregnancy can be terminated with the help of a registered medical practitioner in cases related to safeguarding the mother’s physical and mental health. The termination of pregnancy is governed by laws under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, of 1972.

Laws regarding abortion

Historically, Section 312 of IPC criminalized voluntarily causing miscarriage even with the woman’s consent which included abortion.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act – MTP Act

  • Came into force in 1972
  • The act allowed termination of pregnancy by a registered medical practitioner in three means
    • up to twenty weeks of pregnancy
      • only requires medical advice of one doctor
    • up to twenty-four weeks of pregnancy
      • requires medical opinion of two medical practitioners
      • Section 3 of the act specifies categories of women who are eligible for termination in this period
        • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest
        • Minors
        • Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce),
        • Women with physical disabilities
        • Mentally ill women including mental retardation
        • The foetal malformation such that the child so born may suffer from physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped
        • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disasters or emergencies as may be declared by the Government.
      • over twenty-four weeks of pregnancy
        • opinion of a state-level four membered medical board is required
        • in cases of suspected foetal abnormalities
      • Latest amendment in 2021
        • Increased upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for certain categories of women
        • Added confidentiality clause where in information cannot be revealed except to a person authorized by law
        • Added the clause of failure of contraceptive to provide access to safe abortion to unmarried women as well
        • Authorizes one certified medical practitioner to perform an abortion at any stage of pregnancy if it is urgently required to preserve the pregnant woman’s life, regardless of any of the aforementioned restrictions.

Legal abortion can be performed… if,

  1. Continuation of pregnancy poses risk to physical or mental health of the mother
  2. Fetus has severe abnormalities
  3. Pregnancy was a result of sexual assault or rape
  4. Pregnancy was a result of failure of contraception

Significance of MTP Act

  1. Reproductive choice is a personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution
  2. Abortion is an important part of women’s reproductive health and rights.
  3. Necessary for protection and dignity of survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women.
  4. Encourages safe abortion practices while upholding the rights of the unborn child

Criticism against MTP Act

  1. According to the Rural Health Statistics 2019–20 report from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, there is a 70% shortfall of obstetrician-gynecologists in rural India.
  2. The act bans deliberate abortion forcing them to seek unsanitary and hazardous set up.
  3. The increase in gestation period limit is applicable only to certain categories of women

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