What? Abortion is legal?


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 ( 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:

  • Continuing the pregnancy can lead to physical or mental injury to the woman. For example, a pregnancy that resulted from rape can cause grievous mental damage to the survivor, and is eligible for an abortion.
    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.
  • If there is reason to believe that the fetus will have serious genetic abnormalities
  • 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.

    What is Safe Sex?

    Staying safe is a basic human right. Especially when it comes to something as intimate as sex. The physical, emotional and chemical medley that sex is, it’s quite easy to get carried away and simply forget healthy ways of doing it.

    So what’s the safe word for sex?
    It is important to have your partner’s consent and also to practice safe sex. Technically, safe sex is nothing but sexual activity engaged in by people who have taken precautions to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or to prevent pregnancy. Here are some important things to keep in mind about safe sex:

  • Self-will: Safe is about being into it of your own free will.
  • Secure: Safe is about feeling secure and loved, at every level of body, mind and soul.
  • Self-esteem: Safe is also about sense of positive self-esteem, a feel-good about yourself.
  • Health and hygiene: These are the basics building blocks of Safe Sex.
  • How can you make sex safer?

    Be it for protecting yourself against infections (STIs) or upping your confidence, every man or woman has the right to demand safe sex.

  • Barrier to STIs: A male or female condom acts as a latex barrier, preventing the transmission of STIs. This is your safest bet to safe sex, so get out and explore various options. Today, the market is flooded with contraceptive methods such as chocolate-flavored condoms and extra-dotted ones. Use dental dams for oral sex etc. Read more on contraception here
  • Talk safe, be safe: ‘Communication’ is the cure to most of our trials and tribulations. So is the case for engaging in safe sex with your partner. Discuss the pros and cons of various contraceptives. A loving relationship must share respect and concern for well-being, and that includes safe sex. A few words of worth can do wonders for a great sex life.
  • Stay faithful, stay safe: Discover the awesome love that endures when one is committed to one partner. Chuck out the complications from your love life and avoid having multiple sexual partners.
  • Get in control, choose the best birth control: Are you newly married or a couple who are not planning to have kids? We suggest you try oral contraceptives, with guidance from a medical practitioner. Birth control is a great way to prevent pregnancy, though it does not protect against STIs.
  • More important than ever is to be aware and informed about your sexual health. Get yourself and your partner tested for STIs and together pledge to embark on the path to sexual wellbeing. Take charge of your sexual health today and set on the journey to a beautiful and healthy life ahead.