With the emerging concern and talk surrounding legal abortion in certain states in the USA, it’s good to do a comparative analysis to see where India stands on the issue.
If we’re looking strictly from a human rights perspective, getting access to a safe abortion is a fundamental human right. Safe abortions are a right we deserve. So, where does India stand on the matter?
Are you aware of the Abortion Laws in India?
India has always had a (comparatively) progressive abortion framework ever since the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971. With recent amendments made in 2021, the rules have become more inclusive but there are still a few grey areas to be addressed.
Firstly, there is a huge social stigma and taboo attached to even a mention of abortion- people are labelled ‘selfish’ or ‘murderers’ if they choose to go forward with an abortion for an unplanned pregnancy. Secondly, the abortion laws still place authority for the final decision of actually doing the abortion in the hands of the doctor. It cannot be sought on-demand by the one who wants an abortion.
Expert’s Comments on Abortion Laws in India
Shveta Kalyanwala is an independent consultant and a public health researcher. With a social science background, she has used qualitative and participatory research methodology in an interdisciplinary manner for formative research, programme development and evaluations. Over the last two decades, she has worked on a range of issues including health, education and rights. She has been published in international peer reviewed journals. She weighs in on the abortion discussion.
She says that on one hand, while the MTP Act is liberal, on the other hand, it is still a challenge for the abortion-seekers (especially from vulnerable, marginalised communities and remote areas) to get access.
This could be attributed to the deep-rooted stigma and taboo surrounding abortions which holds abortion-seekers back from expressing their intention to do so. This is also coupled with a lack of awareness, autonomy and a systemic response pushing them towards unsafe and illegal services.
People are simply unaware about legal abortions, facilities that offer them and services surrounding the matter. It could also be a matter of doubt on the quality of services from the women’s end. Other factors like the distance to the centre and costs of safe and legal abortions may also make a difference.
The 2021 Amendments to the MTP Act are a welcome change. However, she believes that how these amendments translate into the availability of abortion services is a matter to look into. The focus must be on standard setting, specialised training and nuanced language so that women’s rights to health services are not at stake.
There also needs to be more clarity on the different Amendment components. For instance, there needs to be clarification on what comes under the umbrella of “special categories of women”, “substantial foetal malformations” and “humanitarian settings”. At the moment, under the POCSO Act, there is a mandatory reporting in place when a minor seeks an abortion. This could lead to a confidentiality breach, a denial of an abortion which may force a minor to head to an uncertified provider to get the abortion done. The pandemic has also placed a strain on healthcare services- and newer innovative ways to carry out abortions may need to be looked into.
There is a possibility to introduce medical abortions as telemedicine– since it is primarily a non-invasive process and can be managed by the abortion-seeker themselves. If this becomes mainstream, there also needs to be a system in place for managing complications, if they arise, with a service provider.
She stresses on an approach that just focuses on more than just ‘safety’. There is a need for unconditional access to safe abortion services for everyone who needs it.
Whether there is a legal framework in place or not, unplanned pregnancies happen all the time necessitating abortions.
Unwanted pregnancies could happen for many reasons.
Contraception fails. Some people are not ready to have a child. It’s unaffordable. Pregnancy can be life-threatening in some instances. The foetus could be a result of rape or incest. The foetus could have foetal anomalies.
What this means is that, fitting abortions into the legal framework allows for people to choose to have a safe abortion instead of criminalising the process. Unsafe abortions are fatal for everyone involved.
What are your thoughts on this abortion discussion? Comment below.