FEATURE: Second Trimester Abortion in India: Extending the law from 20 to 24 weeks

Demonstration in Jammu, 20 December 2012, in protest at the rape and brutalisation of a young woman in Delhi, Press TV

2 August 2016

In 1971, the Government of India passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act), one of the most liberal abortion laws of its day, which went into effect in 1972. It allowed abortion on a range of grounds – to save the woman's life, to preserve her physical or mental health, as a result of rape or incest, fetal impairment, and on economic or social grounds. Contraceptive failure on the part of a woman or her husband was also considered a ground; India is one of the few countries explicitly permitting this in the terms of the law. Unless it was deemed a medical emergency, abortion had to take place up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion has to be carried out by a registered physician in a hospital established or maintained by the Government or in a facility approved by the government. A second opinion is required in cases where the pregnancy is between 12 and 20 weeks, except in urgent cases. In general, the consent of the pregnant woman is required before the performance of an abortion, while written consent of her guardian must be obtained for a minor (defined as under age 18).

Although the law is liberal, a large proportion of abortions are unsafe or occur outside the terms of the law. Estimates show that of the 6 million abortions each year in India, 55-60% are still classified as unsafe, contributing to 8% of total maternal deaths, with younger women most at risk of complications. Moreover, some 25% of abortions in India take place in the second trimester, especially because girls and women face multiple barriers to accessing early abortion in many parts of the country.

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Source: International Campaign for Women's Right to Safe Abortion