Abortion Laws in India

In Indian society women are given and honorable place. It can be witnessed by a popular saying in Indian culture :
"Yatra naryastu pujyante ramante tatra devta"
which means where women are honored, divinity blossoms there.
Women play a commendable role in formation of a sound society, it's growth and in the development of the country. The laws of the country empowers the women with certain rights. One of such right is Right to Abortion. Abortion is defined as termination of pregnancy.
Almost 7 million abortions take place annually in India out of which 50% are illegal.
In countries like Canada , Australia , Europe , Indonesia , Libya, Venezuela permit abortion to women. However in 24 countries abortion is illegal such as Senegal, Mauritania, Egypt, Laos, Philippines, El Salvador, Poland, Malta etc.


Historical retrospect

  • Until 1960, abortion was illegal in India and was punishable under section 312 of Indian penal code,1860.
  • In mid 1960s, the government set up Shantilal Shah committee to look into the matter of abortion and to bring reforms.
  • Based on the report of Shantilal Shah committee medical termination bill was introduced in Lok Sabha and was passed by the Parliament in August 1971 which came into force on April Ist, 1972 by the name of
  • "The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971".

Legislative provisions dealing with Abortion in India:

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allowed pregnancy termination by a medical practitioner in two stages which is discussed later.

Section 312, 313 of IPC:

Section 312 of Indian penal code,1860 criminalises voluntarily causing miscarriage even when the miscarriage is with the pregnant woman's consent except when the miscarriage is caused to save the life of woman.

Recent amendment of 2021:

Parliament amended the MTP Act in 2021 and allowed for :

(a) Abortion before 20 weeks of pregnancy:
abortions based on the advice of one doctor for pregnancy up to 20 weeks.

(b) Abortion between 20 to 24 weeks of pregnancy:
The opinion of two doctors for pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks.
Also for pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks rules specified 7 categories of women who would be eligible for seeking termination under section 3B of rules prescribed under the MTP Act.

Grounds for termination of pregnancy upto 24 weeks-
These are:

  • survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest,
  • minors ,
  • change of marital status during ongoing pregnancy ,
  • women with physical disabilities ,
  • mentally ill women,
  • the foetal malformation that has a substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped,
  • women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disasters or emergencies may be declared by the government.

(c) Abortion beyond 24 weeks :
In cases of pregnancy beyond four weeks , abortion is performed based on fetal abnormalities. In such cases, permission is to be taken from four member Medical board established under the Act in each state.

Abortion in case of unmarried women :

  • The MTP Amendment Act, 2021 allows the unmarried woman to terminate pregnancy under the abovementioned rules.
  • In case of a minor girl, consent of guardian is required.

Right to Privacy of women:

The Act strictly provides that the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed. However, it can be revealed to a person authorized by law for time being in force.

Roe vs Wade, 1973 , US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of United States gave women Right to abortion and made abortion legal for women in the country. The court held that abortion would be allowed up to the point of foetal viability i.e. the time after which a foetus can survive outside the womb.

Justice K.S. Puttaswamy vs Union of India and ors, 2017 SC

The apex court of India recognised the constitutional right of women to make reproductive choices as integral to personal liberty under article 21 of Indian Constitution. The court held that the decision by a pregnant woman on weather to continue a pregnancy or not is part of such a person's right to privacy.

Loopholes of the Act:

  • According to Rural Health statistics report,2020 by Ministry of Health and Family Welfare there is 70% shortage of obstetrician gynaecologist in rural India.
  • As the MTP Act bans delibrate abortion, women are forced to get unauthorized abortions in hazardous settings.

Way forward:

  • To ensure all professional standards are being maintained and other healthcare facilities are given to women.
  • To take steps to eradicate the practice of illegal abortions.
  • Government should make steps to ensure implementation of the law countrywide.
  • To spread awareness among masses.

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