Safe abortion is a critical sexual and reproductive health service, which supports women to make their own decision about when and how to have children. Recognizing this, abortion is legal under certain conditions in most countries around the world. In India, abortion can be accessed legally under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, up until 20 weeks of gestation on several grounds. After this point, abortions can be performed if necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.
When performed properly, abortion is an extremely safe medical procedure. In fact, it is safer than childbirth, with complications exceedingly rare. However, despite being legal and (if handled by a well-trained provider) extremely safe, millions of Indian women turn to unsafe methods of abortion. This leads to 10 avoidable deaths every day and accounts for 8% of the country’s maternal mortality – a major public health issue. A range of factors compel women to turn to unsafe abortion, including shortfalls of the law, stigma and misinformation.
Increasing access to safe abortion is smart. Evidence shows that when countries restrict abortions, they only restrict women’s access to safe abortions. As such, increasing access to safe abortion could avert over 50,000 deaths a year globally. In India, it could help ensure that the approximately 15.6 million abortions that take place annually are safe ones. Increasing access to safe abortion is also right. Time and time again, studies show that when women can make informed choices about their lives, they, their families and their communities thrive. At the end of the day: if it’s a woman’s body, it should be her choice.
Policymakers must amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. While women can access abortion under the MTP Act, the Act includes several restrictions. For example, unmarried women cannot access abortions for contraceptive failure and women can only access abortions up to 20 weeks of gestation, unless there is a threat to her life. Amendments to the Act, which could help ensure more women are able to access safe services, have been pending since 2014. Learn more here.
Providers must offer women-centric services. Even when women are legally allowed to access abortions services under the MTP Act, providers and government officials too often deny or impede services. Often, this is rooted in misinformation and confusion around how laws governing sex selection, child sexual abuse and abortion intersect. For example, in cases of girls under 18 approaching providers for abortions, providers are required to report the case to the police under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012. However, this should not stop providers from giving abortion and other sexual and reproductive health services at the girl’s request and with her guardian’s permission. Another challenge, the Center for Reproductive Rights found that many women and girls are denied termination of pregnancy at health facilities beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy who face serious health risks, even though the law clearly permits abortion in such cases. Learn more here & sign a petition to the Health Minister here.
All of us must end stigma. Too often, abortion is portrayed as a sin, closely tied to societal stigma around sex, which leaves many women who are considering terminating their pregnancies with little information and support systems. Many women don’t know that abortion is common (with approximately 15.6 million abortions in India every year), it’s legal (under the MTP Act) and it’s ok (it’s her body, it should be her choice!). Spreading these messages and fighting stigma can ensure more women can make informed decisions about their bodies, health and lives. Learn more here & and spread the word here.
A growing campaign driven by committed partners across India. Launched in September 2018, the campaign has reached approximately 55 million people over social media. We also have a sister campaign in South Africa.
Want to better understand the abortion landscape in India and around the world? We have you covered. Below are a selection of helpful resources and compelling reads.
Government of India: MTP Rules (June 2003)
Government of India: Guidance: Ensuring Access to safe Abortion and Addressing Gender Biased Sex Selection (February 2015)
Government of India: Handbook on Medical Methods of Abortion to Expand Access to New Technologies for Safe Abortion (January 2016)
Guttmacher: The Incidence of Abortion and Unintended Pregnancy in India (December 2017)
Guttmacher: Abortion Incidence and Related Services in Six Indian States, 2015 (November 2018)
Population Council: Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion in India: Country Profile Report (March 2014)
Ipas Development Foundation: Policy brief - The POCSO Act and The MTP Act: Key Information for Medical Provider (October 2017)
Ipas Development Foundation: CAC Training and Service Delivery Guidelines, 2018 (March 2019)
Ipas Development Foundation: Is self-use of medical abortion a viable option? : A systematic review of global evidence with a special focus on India (September 2018)
Ipas Development Foundation and Centre for Health Law, Ethics and Technology, Jindal Global Law School Abortion Laws in India - A Review of Court Cases (February 2017)
Amnesty International: Key Facts on Abortion
WHO: Global Strategy for Women's, Children's and Adolescent's Health 2016-2030 (September 2015)
Guttmacher: Abortion Worldwide 2017: Uneven Progress and Unequal Access (March 2018)
The Lancet: Abortion: access and safety worldwide (March 2018)
Worldometers: Projections of Abortions Worldwide
DNA: Ensuring women's sexual and reproductive autonomy key to gender equality (Amruta Fadnavis, 10 March 2018)
Economic Times: Making amends: Increasing access to safe abortion services in India (Dr Jaideep Malhotra, 28 September 2018)
Hindustan Times: Ensure sex workers in India have access to sexual reproductive health services (Sonal Mehta & Shammu Rao, 8 June 2018)
Outlook India: It is time we value the right to safe abortion (Dr Suchitra Dalvie, 4 October 2018)
The Hindu: Crass framing (Dr Jaydeep Tank, 13 October 2018)
The Indian Express: A law past its sell-by date (Dr Jaideep Malhotra, 16 August 2018)
The Pioneer: Empowering women by better access to sexual, reproductive health tech (VS Chandrashekar, 7 April 2018)
The Pioneer: Allow non-allopathic doctors to perform abortion (Vinoj Manning, 2 June 2018)
The Print: Abortion has been legal in India since 1971 but it is still not a woman’s right (Dr Nozer Sheriar, 22 April 2018)
The Print: Rights of women have never been the centre of any politics in India (Vrinda Grover, 24 Deecember 2018)