At a conference organised by NGO SAMYAK that I attended last year, I was struck by the ignorance of commoners who were asked to opine on abortions. People were asked they thought abortion was legal in India, and the responses were quite appalling.
Most of them thought abortion is illegal and associated it only with eliminating the female fetus.
So let’s start at the beginning. ABORTION IS LEGAL IN INDIA, and has been for over 46 years. The MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) Act of 1971 (http://www.mohfw.nic.in/index1.php?lang=1&level=4&sublinkid=3615&lid=2598) clearly outlines that safe abortion can be accessed in the following conditions:
1. If the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks (this rules out sex determination which can only happen after 18 weeks)
2. If pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks but is less than 20 weeks, with consent of two registered medical practitioners, it can be terminated if:
If a married woman’s contraception has failed, an unwanted pregnancy can be mentally taxing to her, hence she is eligible for a legal MTP.
To ensure safety of the woman, the Law states that abortion must only be performed at Government institutions, or at registered MTP clinics only. In fact, any unregistered practitioner performing abortion is liable for punishment.
When the Government has made such clear guidelines to make safe abortion accessible to women, why is there such confusion about its legality?
I think this has to do with the dissemination of messages to curb sex determination and sex selective abortions. The confusion created by using words like ‘female foeticide’ and ‘bhroon hatya’ leads the common citizen to believe that abortion is illegal and if they need one, they have to visit some shady back alley.
The law clearly has provisions in place to prevent sex selective abortions, and yet all abortions are looked at with suspicion because of erroneous terms used in mass messaging.
In India, a woman dies every 2 hours due to unsafe abortion.
These women include urban, educated and supposedly empowered women as well, who could have accessed safe services, but didn’t. Some, because they may have been scared of being accused of indulging in ‘female foeticide’ and others because of social stigmas of having a pregnancy out of wedlock.
What we have to understand is that a woman’s safety is paramount. If you are seeking an abortion:
Go to a registered and licensed gynaecologist
Ask them whether they have a licensed MTP centre, or can refer you to one
They cannot ask you to bring in your spouse or partner (or your guardian if you are above 18)
They cannot breach confidentiality
They cannot deny you safe services if you fall within the legal purview of the MTP Act
Be empowered with information and demand your right to safe medical services.
With inputs from by Dr. Manjit Kaur, MBBS, a practicing Gynaecologist for more than 30 years in Ludhiana, Punjab; feedback from Dr. Arvinder Singh, who runs a Maternal Health NGO in Punjab since more than 20 years, and special thanks to Mr. Anand Pawar and Mr. Shirish Waghmare from Samyak.