India has a liberal abortion law — then why are unsafe abortions so rampant?

An adult abortion seeker doesn’t need a husband or partner’s permission to get an abortion, and can terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks. And yet, 67% of the abortions in the country are unsafe.

Sukanya Shaji

When Dr Suchitra Dalvie was a trainee back in 1995, she was assisting in the surgery of a woman who had internal injuries following an abortion. “She had sepsis due to sticks being inserted in her uterus for termination of pregnancy,” Dr Suchitra, a gynaecologist who is now the Coordinator at the Asia Safe Abortion Partnership tells TNM. This is neither an isolated incident nor have things changed much in the last 25 years. “While such cases may be rarer in cities now, they are very much present in rural and semi rural areas due to lack of access to safe abortion services”, she says. Some studies estimate that at least eight women die in India due to an unsafe abortion every single day — 67% of abortions in the country between 2007 and 2011 are believed to have been unsafe. “Young women aged 15–19 were at the highest risk of dying from an abortion-related complication,” according to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of World Population Report 2022.

All this in a country that has one of the most liberal on-paper abortion laws in the world.


Despite victories, abortion still stigmatized, regulated in India

Dec 22, 2022

When Sakshi Bhatt, a Delhi-based journalist, required an abortion last June after an unexpected pregnancy, she assumed that she would be able to obtain safe medical care without much trouble. But Ms. Bhatt’s experience left her distressed and emotionally scarred.

“When the doctors realized I was not married, they were not supportive at all, and kept making judgmental comments like, ‘You are a girl, you should have been more careful,’” said Ms. Bhatt, who works at Outlook, a news magazine.


Why India’s landmark abortion ruling could echo around the world

Amid a rollback of rights in the US, India’s Supreme Court has given women a long overdue voice in shaping abortion law.

Shreya Shree, Gauri Pillai
Published On 18 Oct 2022

On September 29, the Indian Supreme Court delivered a crucial decision which holds the promise of actually leading to the reproductive autonomy of Indian women, in particular through access to abortion.

While the core issue before the court was whether unmarried women could seek an abortion under the law – the judges confirmed that they can – the decision also spoke to a range of deeper concerns about abortion and women’s rights over their bodies. It could potentially even pave the way for the criminalisation of marital rape, which, at the moment, is not punishable in India.


Explained | How Did Abortions Go From Being A Crime To Being A Right In India?

India's abortion laws have come a long way from 1862 when abortion could get you as much as 7 years in jail.

01 Oct 2022

In June 2022, the US Supreme Court overturned the decades-old Roe v Wade judgment, which afforded abortion rights to all women, making the matter subject to state laws.

But on our own home turf, on 29 September, the Supreme Court ruled that all women are entitled to abortion rights, whether single or married.


India – An Important First Step On The Road to Reproductive Justice, But Safe Abortion Remains Out Of Reach

The Supreme Court’s 29 September 2022 decision on abortion has provided legal armour for many pending cases on reproductive justice related to, among others, surrogacy, assisted reproduction and marital rape. But its impact on access to safe abortion will be limited.
01 Oct 2022

Bengaluru: X* is a 25-year-old woman from Manipur, the eldest of five siblings and the daughter of farmers. She was living in Delhi with her unmarried partner. In June, 2022, X found out that she was pregnant and was set to marry her partner.

At the last minute, her partner refused to marry her.


Why Indian Laws Need More Reforms To Provide Safe Abortions

While socio-economic and medical structural barriers continue to pose challenges, criminalisation of abortion through a restrictive legal framework creates a chilling effect on the willingness of medical practitioners to perform even routine and legal abortions, eliminating access to safe abortions.

Dipika Jain
13 SEP 2022

On August 5, 2022, a Supreme Cou­rt bench consisting of Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and J.B. Pardiwala permitted a 25-year-old unmarried woman to medically terminate her 24-week-old pregnancy resulting from a consensual relationship. Justice Chandrachud noted the legal framework that restricts unmarried women (vis-à-vis mar­ried women) from medically terminating their pregnancies, and stated that both married and unmarried women suffer the same mental anguish with respect to a pregnancy that is older than the gestational period of 20 weeks. In granting her permission to abort, the court recognised the need to “move ahead” from restrictive legal provisions that preclude unmarried women from obtaining abortions after 20 weeks of gestation.


Abortion in India: Bridging the gap between progressive legislation and implementation

When India first passed its abortion legislation in 1971, it was one of the most progressive laws in the world. Fifty years and an amendment later, the country is struggling to offer rights-based abortion care.

Date 18.11.2021
Seerat Chabba (New Delhi)

Shilpa (name changed) found out she was pregnant at the age of 21. She had just enrolled herself into graduate school in India's commercial capital of Mumbai. Distraught and alone in a big city, she took an auto-rickshaw to the nearest hospital and got an appointment with a gynecologist.

Braving judgmental glances, the first question that she had to answer was: "Are you married?" In many parts of India, this question is asked when the doctor wants to know whether the person has been sexually active. Premarital sex remains taboo.


Abortion in India – still not a right but a privilege

MAY 3, 2021

Critiquing the recently passed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, MEENAZ KAKALIA draws on trends in previous judicial decisions and her own personal experience as an advocate who has filed several petitions on behalf of women seeking termination of their pregnancies beyond the prescribed period. She explains why medical boards that have now been made a permanent feature of the Act, are problematic, and recommends that abortions should be made a right for women, solely determined by expectant mothers on the basis of informed consent.

THE Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 received Presidential Assent on 25th March 2021. The Act amends the original enactment of 1971 to increase the number of weeks within which a woman can terminate her pregnancy, and provides for certain circumstances in which a pregnancy can be terminated at any stage.


India – How changes to pregnancy termination bill give women better options for abortion

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, passed by Rajya Sabha, allows abortion between 20 to 24 weeks for 'certain categories of women' with the assent of two doctors.

18 March, 2021

New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha Tuesday passed a bill that allows abortion for up to 24 weeks “for special categories of women”, from the existing gestation period of 20 weeks.

The bill amends the current Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which states that abortion within 12 weeks requires the opinion of one doctor and between 12 to 20 weeks will require the opinion of two doctors.


Abortion Options for Indian Women: Is the New MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020 Better and Safer?

Deepika Singhania, MAKERS India
28 November 2020

Getting an abortion in India is not just about finding the right doctor who can perform the procedure in a safe manner and through legal methods, it’s also about dealing with the stigma and navigating the laws around it. Though we may be living in 2020, if an Indian woman seeks termination of pregnancy even today, she can not do so openly without judgment and people trying to change her mind.

Says 26-year-old Mithila (name changed), “When I got pregnant, my boyfriend and I couldn’t talk to our friends or family about it. So, we looked up a gynaecologist online. As expected, we got lectured about having sex before marriage and got asked the dreaded question – do your parents know?” The doctor refused to perform the termination and as luck would have it, they found a different doctor who turned out to be very supportive.