India – Why the Supreme Court order on abortion is not helping women

Despite the landmark judgment by the Supreme Court in September 2022 that unmarried women too can terminate their pregnancy until 24 weeks, the situation on the ground remains dismal as the MTP Act hasn’t been amended yet

January 09, 2023

When Mumbai-based Shalini* walked into the State-run J.J. Hospital in December last year seeking an abortion, she was turned away. Doctors at the hospital decided that her case was legally complicated. Her pregnancy had crossed 20 weeks, she was unmarried and the reason for her pregnancy was determined “as due to failure of contraception”. She then approached the Wadia Hospital, a charitable institution, which too turned her away.

Shalini wanted to discontinue her pregnancy as she was not ready to have the baby. When her pleas to two hospitals fell on deaf ears, Shalini had to finally move the Bombay High Court citing the Supreme Court judgment to get a favourable recourse.


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.


India – Pandemic pushes wife to write book on crusading doc who fought to raise abortion limit

Mumbai News
Published on Dec 24

Mumbai: When Covid forced the world to shut down, Dr Smita Datar, the wife of a renowned gynaecologist and judicial activist used the time in hand to write about her husband’s 14-year crusade—a crusade that pushed the Union cabinet to upgrade an archaic law in 2020. The story of Dr Nikhil Datar, who got policymakers to raise the upper limit for abortions from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, is now encapsulated in a Marathi book, Fakt Tichyasaathi (Only For Her), which was released today in Mumbai.

“Years ago, the need to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and extend the permissible abortion term was discussed only in medical conferences,” said Dr Smita. “My husband had just started his practice but he was focused on bringing justice to women. He saw many ups and downs and faced criticism but never gave up. And 50 years after the passage of the historic MTP Act of 1971, the MTP Amendment Bill 2020 was passed. It was a landmark.”


Checking the blind spots in India’s abortion ruling

17 December 2022
Authors: Niharika Rustagi and Kaushambi Bagchi, NUS

Sexual and reproductive health rights are crucial to women’s bodily autonomy and empowerment. But women from many countries are not guaranteed these fundamental rights. Landmark rulings in several countries have paved the way for access to abortion services, maternal healthcare and assisted reproduction, including in countries with restrictive reproductive rights laws.

In India, legal reforms related to reproductive rights have been in progress for some time. In 2021, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971, which had previously restricted safe and legal abortions to married women, was amended to include unmarried women. On 29 September 2022, the Supreme Court of India passed a judgement that guaranteed all women, regardless of their marital status, the right to undergo abortions up to 24 weeks into their pregnancy up from 21 weeks.


India: Late-term abortion ruling highlights mothers’ rights

Abortions in India are usually permitted only up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. But in a recent landmark ruling, a Delhi court allowed a woman to undergo an abortion in the 33rd week due to fetal abnormalities.

Dec 12, 2022
Nidhi Suresh

The High Court of Delhi last week permitted an Indian woman, who was 33 weeks pregnant to undergoa medical termination after doctors found abnormalities in the fetus.

"The ultimate decision in such cases ought to recognize the choice of the mother," said Justice Prathiba M.Singh on December 6.


India – Why the HC verdict on abortion beyond 24 weeks is progressive jurisprudence

The Delhi HC granted a 26-year-old woman permission to abort at 30-33 weeks in a progressive interpretation of the MTP Act.

Sambit Dash

The permission granted to a 26-year-old married woman by the Delhi High Court on Tuesday, December 6, to abort her foetus of about 30-33 weeks has become the focus of debates. A large number of people took to social media to express displeasure with Justice Pratibha M Singh's ruling. The verdict places paramount importance on the mother's will and her mental health, adding to the very few cases in India in which an abortion is permitted at an advanced foetal age. Justice Singh's ruling in this case where ethical and moral factors weigh high has added to the progressive jurisprudence on abortion laws in India, highlighting two crucial aspects – the legal interpretation of "significant foetal anomalies" in our social context, and the mental health of the mother.


Amended abortion rights in India

OCT 10 2022

On 29 September, in response to the case of a 25-year-old unmarried woman—whose plea to terminate her pregnancy in the 24th week was turned down by the Delhi High Court—the Supreme Court (SC) of India ruled that all women, regardless of their marital status can obtain abortions up to 24 weeks into their pregnancies. The apex court stated that the decision to carry the pregnancy or terminate it was firmly rooted in a woman’s right to her bodily autonomy and to choose the course of her own life where the artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained.

The change in the law has been hailed by many women and reproductive rights activists, who believe that the court’s judgement no longer discriminates and instead, expands the right to safe and legal abortions to every single woman, thereby, affecting the lives of millions in the coming years. But given the fact that abortion rights have not always been so free in India, the SC’s recent order begs the question as to how the expansion of existing acts and rules—in reality—will contribute towards the longstanding fight for reproductive and bodily autonomy of Indian women.


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.


Unmarried Indian Women Deserve Access To Safe Abortions

August 29, 2022

One of the many ways society polices women’s bodies and sexuality is by creating different hierarchies of medical care that a woman could receive based on whether society approves of her lifestyle or not. For instance, did you know that the upper time limit to seek abortion care is different for married and single women in our country? While this could change legally, soon, it does make us wonder, when will women’s rights stop being subjective to society’s understanding of morality?

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act has to date discriminated between married and unmarried women by limiting the latter’s access to abortion care to a certain limit. The prejudices were in Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules, 2003, which allows termination up to 24 weeks for women, who undergo a change of marital status during the pregnancy, but for unmarried women, it is 20 weeks.  


The safety concern in abortion debate

Mohammad Javed Pasha
July 31, 2022

Abortion is a public health concern besides being a sensitive issue with religious, moral, cultural and political dimensions. More than a quarter of the world’s people live in countries where the procedure is permitted only in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormalities or to save the pregnant person’s life. Abortions still occur in these countries, nearly half of them are unsafe, performed by unskilled practitioners or in unhygienic conditions, or both.

Abortions performed in unsafe conditions claim the lives of tens of thousands of women around the world every year and leave many times that with chronic and often irreversible physical and mental health problems becoming a drain on the resources of public health systems. Controversy, however, often overshadows the public health impact. An estimated 73 million abortions occur globally each year. Unsafe abortions accounts for up to 13 percent of deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth worldwide. Globally, at least 7 million women are treated every year for complications from unsafe abortions.