With Alabama passing a bill to outlaw the procedure of abortion, I, like many women in India, wondered what our country’s stand on the issue is. Is abortion legal in India? What are the options available to women who want to voluntarily terminate their pregnancy, for whatever reasons? And are there any risks involved?
If you’re keen on knowing the answers to these questions, here’s a brief but comprehensive guide on the abortion laws in India, the procedures performed, and the risks that accompany abortion.
Abortion Laws in India
Up until 1971, Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code criminalized abortion. However, seeing a steep increase in the number of unsafe abortions, the Indian Government appointed the Shah Committee to offer suggestions for drafting a law to make them legal. In 1970, the recommendations of this Committee were accepted, and a year later, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, came about.
When is termination of pregnancy allowed?
According to the MTP Act, it’s legal to carry out an abortion at any time up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Termination is allowed under the following circumstances.
- If continuing with the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother’s life
- If the pregnancy has the potential to cause grave injury to the mother’s physical or mental health
- If there is a significant risk of the child being born with a serious handicap arising from physical or mental abnormalities
- If the pregnancy has occurred because of rape
- If the pregnancy is a result of failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband
Who is authorized to perform an abortion?
The abortion laws in India state that abortions can only be performed by a registered medical practitioner (RMP) who has a recognized medical qualification under the Indian Medical Council Act. The RMP also needs to have their name entered in the state medical register and must possess the required experience in the field of gynecology and obstetrics.
Whose consent does an RMP require to go ahead with the abortion?
According to Indian abortion laws, only the woman seeking the abortion needs to offer her consent. However, in case the woman is mentally ill, the consent of her guardian is required.
What about abortion in case a minor girl is pregnant?
In case a minor girl is pregnant, abortion requires the consent of the parent or guardian. The MTP Act also offers room for termination of the pregnancy even after the prescribed 20 weeks have passed, provided a court has authorized such a termination in case of exceptional circumstances.
Is a medical practitioner’s opinion necessary before an abortion is performed?
If the abortion is being performed within 12 weeks of pregnancy, you only require the opinion of one registered medical practitioner. However, for termination of pregnancies that are between 12 and 20 weeks, two RMPs need to offer their opinion and approval.
When does abortion become criminal in India?
As per the provisions of the MTP Act, aborting after 20 weeks is generally illegal, except in case of exceptional circumstances where court authorization has been obtained. Additionally, getting a pregnancy terminated by anyone other than a registered medical practitioner, or getting an abortion without the requisite professional opinion of one doctor (in case of pregnancies below 12 weeks) or two doctors (in case of pregnancies between 12 and 20 weeks) is also not allowed. Also, aborting after the pregnancy has quickened, or in other words, after you can sense the movement of the fetus, is punishable with fine and jail time of up to 7 years, except if it is done in good faith, to save the mother’s life.
Abortion Procedures in India
Depending on how far along the pregnancy is, a medical practitioner may recommend any one of these three methods for abortion.
Vacuum Aspiration is an outpatient procedure that’s generally performed in the first trimester, within 5 to 12 weeks of pregnancy. It can be done manually, or it can be performed using an electric pump.
Manual Vacuum Aspiration or MVA: A local anaesthetic is used to numb the cervix. Then, the doctor guides a thin tube through the cervical opening into the uterus. A syringe attached to the tube applies suction and removes the contents of the uterus within 10 to 15 minutes.
Electric Vacuum Aspiration or EVA: This procedure is quite similar to Manual Aspiration. The only difference is that in EVA, the doctor uses an electric pump instead of a manual one to expel the contents of the uterus.
Vacuum Aspiration comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages, as you’ll see here.
- Pros: It’s simple, quick, and can be performed early in the pregnancy.
- Cons: There’s a slim possibility of the abortion being incomplete. So, the procedure may need to be repeated to terminate the pregnancy entirely.
Dilation and Curettage
Popularly known as D&C, this is a surgical procedure that’s similar to Vacuum Aspiration in that the cervix is dilated as the first step. The second step involves removing the contents of the uterus using a sharp metal instrument (instead of a suction device).
- Pros: It’s one of the surest ways to terminate a pregnancy.
- Cons: D&C is a very invasive procedure.
Medical termination of a pregnancy involves the use of two approved drugs that can be taken up to 9 weeks into the pregnancy. The two drugs are:
Mifepristone: This anti-progesterone drug stops the fetus from growing, thus beginning the process of abortion.
Misoprostol: This pill softens the cervix, dilates it, and encourages uterine contractions, so the contents of the uterus can be expelled.
Medical abortion is not without its pros and cons either.
Pros: It’s an inexpensive, pain-free, and sterile way of terminating a pregnancy. There’s also a greater degree of privacy for the pregnant woman.
Cons: Medical termination with drugs is only safe up to nine weeks or so. Furthermore, it can also cause cramping and minor discomfort.
The Risks of Having an Abortion
Although in-clinic or medically-supervised abortions are relatively safer than unsupervised induced abortions, there are certain risks involved. Some of them are listed here.
- Allergic reaction to the drugs
- Uterine blood clots
- Heavy bleeding following the procedure
- Incomplete termination of pregnancy
- Possibility of infections
- Injury to the cervix, uterine lining, or other organs
There’s no need to panic, though. Remember that these complications are extremely rare. Abortions performed according to the medically recommended procedure are almost always successful and do not pose any life-threatening risks.
If you still have any queries about terminating a pregnancy, it’s best to obtain a doctor’s appointment and talk to a trained professional in person. This way, you can better understand the procedures, risks, and options available to you.