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Abortion in India

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Abortion in India

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, or
  • 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.

An adult woman requires no other person's consent except her own.[1]

In many parts of India, daughters are not preferred and hence sex-selective abortion is commonly practiced, resulting in an unnatural male to female population sex ratio due to millions of developing girls selectively being targeted for termination before birth.[2]

Legal status

Before 1971

The Indian Penal Code, which was enacted in 1860 and was written in accordance with British law at the time of its creation, declared induced abortion as illegal. Induced abortion was defined as purposely "causing miscarriage".[3] Abortion practitioners would either be incarcerated for up to three years, fined, or both; women undergoing abortions could be imprisoned for up to seven years and also be charged an additional fine.[3] The only exception was when abortion was induced in order to save the life of the woman.[3] Despite the fact that this passage in the penal code was changed in Great Britain in 1967, India did not change it until 1971.[3]

Countless women died attempting illegal abortions as a result of the penal code, and it was a combination of this and the growing population that made the country reconsider its initial stance.[3] In 1964, the Central Family Planning Board of the Government of India met and formed a committee designed to examine the subject of abortion from medical, legal, social, and moral standpoints.[3] The Abortion Study Committee, led by the then Health Minister of the state of Maharashtra Mr. Shantilal Shah, spent the next two years studying the issue, and submitted a report with its suggestions in December 1966.[3] This report considered the penal code to be too restrictive and recommended that the law's qualifications should be relaxed; many of these suggestions were included in the subsequent Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.[3]

1971 and beyond

The Indian abortion laws falls under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in the year 1971 with the intention of reducing the incidence of illegal abortion and consequent maternal mortality and morbidity.[4] The MTP Act came into effect from 1 April 1972 and was amended in the years 1975 and 2002.

Pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks may be terminated based on a single opinion formed in good faith. In case of pregnancies exceeding 12 weeks but less than 20 weeks, termination needs opinion of two doctors.[1] The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of India clearly states the conditions under which a pregnancy can be ended or aborted, the persons who are qualified to conduct the abortion and the place of implementation.[5] Some of these qualifications are as follows:

  • Women whose physical and/or mental health were endangered by the pregnancy[3]
  • Women facing the birth of a potentially handicapped or malformed child[3]
  • Rape[3]
  • Pregnancies in unmarried girls under the age of eighteen with the consent of a guardian[3]
  • Pregnancies in "lunatics" with the consent of a guardian[3]
  • Pregnancies that are a result of failure in sterilization[3]


Unsafe abortions are killing a woman every two hours in India (which is approximately 4000 deaths a year), according to estimates and calculations correlating data on maternal mortality ratio (MMR) and Sample Registration System (SRS) data by Ipas, India, an international NGO working on increasing access to safe abortion services. A Lancet paper in 2007 said there were 6.4 million abortions, of which 3.6 million or 56 per cent were unsafe. Ipas has calculated this based on the latest population and crude birth rates (CBR) which peg the number of induced abortion at 5,007,932[6] According to Census 2011, abortion taking place in institution varies from 32.0% in Chhattisgarh to 73.9% in Assam.

Sex-selective abortion

Pre-natal diagnostic techniques like Medical Ultrasonography are capable of determining the sex of the foetus. In many parts of India, daughters are not preferred and hence sex-selective abortion is commonly practiced, a form of Gendercide, resulting in an unnatural male to female population sex ratio due to millions of developing girls being terminated before birth. According to The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques(Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002 the following are cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offences

  • Conducting or associating or helping to conduct Pre-Natal Diagnostic tests for determining the sex of the foetus.
  • Sex selection on a woman or a man or both on any tissue, embryo, conceptus fluid or gametes derived from either or both of them
  • Advertisement or communication in any form in print, by electronic media or internet by units, medical professionals or companies on the availability of sex determination and sex selection in the form of services, medicines, or any kind of techniques.

Three years imprisonment and fine of Rs. 10,000 and five years imprisonment and fine of Rs. 50,000 for subsequent offence for service providers is stipulated by the law ; those who seek aid shall be punishable with a term that may extend to three years and a fine that may extend to Rs 50,000 for the first offence and for any subsequent offence with imprisonment which may extend to five years and with fine which may increase to Rs. 100,000.


Unsafe abortions continue to outnumber safe and legal abortions. The Central government constituted an expert committee in the year 2010 to make recommendations.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ The Economist. The War on Baby Girls: Gendercide. 4 March 2010
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Chandrasekhar, S. India's Abortion Experience Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press, 1994.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  • Katz, Neil S. Abortion in India: Selecting by Gender. 20 May 2006. 1 Jan. [1]

External links

  • Medical abortion information for women in Hindi language The International Consortium for Medical Abortion (ICMA) Information Package on Medical Abortion
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