WHAT DOES INDIAN LAW SAY ABOUT ABORTION?
In India, abortion isn't legal but is governed by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) which is an exception to the British Criminal Law Consolidation Acts, 1861, that criminalised abortion. MTP permitted abortion under several conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation (pregnancy risks, rapes, failure of contraceptives and socio-economic conditions). It was amended in 2021 to expand access and allow termination for up to 24 weeks.
IS ACCESS TO ABORTION EASY IN INDIA?
No. For many reasons. Abortion at the request of the pregnant person is not available. The amended MTP (2021) gives doctors, not women, the final say. The amendment may have allowed termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks but only for special categories of vulnerable women. There are numerous social and administrative barriers, and stigma. Prior to the amendments, doctors' licenses were cancelled for carrying out abortions. There is residual fear and continuing stigma.
WOMEN STRIPPED OF AGENCY
The 2021 amendments expand the clause about contraceptive failure as a ground for abortion to any "woman or her partner". While this may seem progressive, it implies women need to specify their relationships thus excluding several groups: such as single or marginalised women and sex workers. While parental or spousal approval is not required, medical establishments often require adults undergoing abortion to bring "guardians" along. This is difficult especially for women in abusive relationships.
PRIVACY IS AN ISSUE
Several provisions have been provided by the MTP 2021 to guarantee privacy with mandatory obligations for doctors and the hospital but the statutory obligations don't apply to hospital staff who can identify and disclose a person's identity. Pharmacies are also required to keep records of individuals prescribed abortion pills or kits and these aren't secret documents. This has particularly worrying consequences for unmarried women and trans folks as the stigma around sex and abortion compromises their safety.
DISABLED AND TRANS PEOPLE DISREGARDED
By removing gestational limit in the presence of "substantial foetal abnormality" the law focuses on preventing the birth of disabled people. By labelling "differently-abled women" as vulnerable, it deepens the ableist bias that sees disabled women as not capable of giving birth or providing childcare. The act allows “all women” to access abortion in case of “contraceptive failure” but it is notoriously silent about trans women.
LACK OF ACCESS TO ABORTION IS KILLING WOMEN
In India alone, legal hindrances are the cause for about 800,000 unsafe abortions a year in India that account for 8-10% of maternal deaths. Pervasive patriarchal attitudes among healthcare service providers mean that their biases may lead to the refusal of the service.
WHO IS MOST AFFECTED?
All over the world, the lack of reproductive justice obstructs women's rights and impacts their bodily autonomy. Even privileged women may find it difficult to access safe abortion and it's far worse for women with no wealth, class, or caste capital. Non-cis people are deprived of reproductive rights the world over.
LAWMAKERS ARE DEPRIVING US OF REPRODUCTIVE RIGHTS
The erosion of reproductive rights is outrageous and deeply concerning. It is an assault on human dignity, bodily autonomy, and constitutional rights. We must stand in rage against the terrible injustice of the events in the US and keep rallying for furthering the cause of reproductive justice in India.
Protecting patient privacy and confidentiality during medical termination of pregnancy, Anay Shukla and Eshika Phadke
The MTP 2020 Amendment Bill: anti-rights subjectivity, Alka Barua et al
Abortion Is Legal In India But Rules, Stigma Make It Hard To Access, Shreya Raman
Abortion Laws In India: Do Pregnant People Have Agency Over Their Own Bodies?, Stephy Stephen
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 @circustowncloth, twitter, Rimi