India’s laws on abortions

  • IASbaba
  • June 27, 2022
  • 0
Social Issues
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Context: Amid the overturning of the landmark Roe v. Wade judgement in the U.S, the laws on abortions in India have come to focus

  • In order to reduce maternal mortality owing to unsafe abortions, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was brought into force 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.
  • The latest amendment to the MTP Act was made in 2021

What is the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021?

  • The 2021 Act 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
  • Under the 2021 Act, medical termination of pregnancy is permitted if it is backed by medical opinion and is being sought for at least one of the following reasons
  • If the continuation of pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman
  • If its continuation would result in grave injury to the woman’s physical or mental health
  • In the case of a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from serious physical or mental abnormality
  • The pregnancy can be terminated upto 24 weeks of gestational age after the opinion of two registered medical practitioners under these conditions —
  • If the woman is ​​either a survivor of sexual assault or rape or incest
  • If she is a minor
  • If her marital status has changed during the ongoing pregnancy
  • If she has major physical disabilities or is mentally ill
  • On the grounds of foetal malformation incompatible with life or if the child is born, it would be seriously handicapped
  • If the woman is in humanitarian settings or disaster, or emergency situations as declared by the government
  • Besides, if the pregnancy has to be terminated beyond the 24-week gestational age, it can only be done on the grounds of foetal abnormalities if a four-member Medical Board, as set up in each State under the Act, gives permission to do so.
  • The law, notwithstanding any of the above conditions, also provides that where 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 under the above-mentioned conditions, because it does not mention the requirement of spousal consent.
  • If the woman is a minor, however, the consent of a guardian is required.
  • Section 5A of the Act contains provisions for the protection of the privacy of a woman undergoing an abortion.

Judicial Verdicts

  • Despite the fact that existing laws do not permit unconditional abortion in the country, in the landmark 2017 Right to Privacy judgement in the Justice K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India and others, the Supreme Court had held that the decision by a pregnant person on whether to continue a pregnancy or not is part of such a person’s right to privacy as well and, therefore, the right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

What are the criticisms against the abortion law?

Demand-Supply mismatch

  • According to a 2018 study in the Lancet, 6 million abortions were accessed every year in India as of 2015.
  • The MTP Act requires abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics
  • According to a study there is a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India.
  • As the law does not permit abortion at will, 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.

Source: The Hindu

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