We Indians are a funny bunch of people. If a woman is asked to terminate her pregnancy, for reasons as bizarre as yearning for a male child which in turn leads to female foeticide, then the act seems legit. But, the moment an adult, sexually-active female decides to terminate her “unwanted pregnancy” the whole world becomes custodian of her body and its rights too.
Abortions! Some still cringe at the word abortion. While the others have become more accepting of it. An adult woman requires no other person's consent except her own and can rightfully as well as legally have an abortion if she desires.
Abortion in India is legal only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations like risk to the life on continuance of the pregnancy or serious injury of physical or mental health. Supreme Court allows a rape survivor to terminate her pregnancy at 24 weeks, which is beyond the permissible 20 weeks limit according to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
It’s not a matter of ‘log kya kahenge’ because no third person needs to be involved. Doctors are required to maintain patient confidentiality hence such information will not be disclosed by the doctor.
Women considering abortion do so in case of birth control failure, inability to support a child, to end an unwanted pregnancy, to prevent birth of a child with serious birth defects, serious threat to mother’s health or pregnancy resulting from rape.
Abortions can be carried out through medicines or surgery depending on the stage of pregnancy. Up till 9 weeks, pregnancy can be terminated with medicines that are 90% effective. If the pregnancy is between 9-12 weeks, an easy surgical procedure is done while in a pregnancy between 12-20 weeks, a longer procedure is carried out. Surgical procedures includes dilation and curettage (D&C) or dilation and evacuation (D&E).
Cost of an abortion through medicines amounts to somewhere between 1000-3000 rupees. Surgical abortion varies from Rs. 5000-30,000.
Amendments have been proposed to the MTP Act before cabinet. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, has undergone changes over the years. Before the MTP Act was passed in 1971, abortion under any circumstances, except danger to a pregnant woman’s life, was illegal in India. Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) provides that “Whoever voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry, shall, if such miscarriage be not caused in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman, be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both; and, if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine”.
The MTP Act as it currently stands also does not permit abortion solely on the request of a woman. One important reason for this is to prevent and reduce the instances of female foeticide in the country. However, it is important to analyse and study whether the law has had the desired impact on female foeticide, especially in light of the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Misuse) Act, 1994 which prohibits sex-selection and prescribes strict punishment for both – the party seeking prenatal sex determination as well as the medical practitioner conducting the test.
There are divergent and conflicting case laws when it comes to the issue aborting a foetus beyond the stipulated 20-week period. There is also the important issue of a woman’s right to her body, as it is limited under the current laws.
Failure of contraceptive will be a lawful reason for abortion irrespective of whether the woman is married or otherwise, if a Health Ministry recommendation gets necessary Cabinet and Parliamentary nod. The Ministry in its recommendations for amending the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act has said a woman opting for abortion irrespective of whether she is married or single, should be given the choice. At present, the law recognises failure of contraceptive as a legal reason for abortion only if the woman is married.
Whatever the reason for wanting an abortion may be, it is important that one goes to a qualified gynaecologist and under no circumstance try to perform procedures or take medicines on their own. Your doctor’s qualification should not be compromised with as improper treatment may leave one with serious disabilities, infertility or even death. Unsafe abortions are killing a woman every two hours in India and still continue to outnumber safe and legal abortions.
Abortion is a tricky and a sensitive topic, but for women opting for it or forced to go through the ordeal, it is much more than that. The reasons may vary, but it’s high time we give the women freedom of choice to decide what is best for them, with the help of a qualified medical practitioner.