Cutting the chase – Abortion (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) in India is legal on various circumstances and until 20 weeks of pregnancy. After 24 weeks of pregnancy, the woman has to get permission from the court to undergo abortion.
Before 1971, Abortion was considered a criminal offence under section 360 of IPC. It was termed ‘Intentionally causing miscarriage’. After the Shantilal Shah committee’s recommendations, Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill was passed in the parliament of India in the year 1971, legalizing abortion with certain conditions.
As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) of 1971, abortion can be performed until 20 weeks of pregnancy by a qualified medical practitioner if:
- When continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;
- When there is substantial risk that the child, if born or dead would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities;
- When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
- When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (presumed to constitute grave injury to mental health of the woman).
The MTP Act of 1971 also specifies
- Who can terminate pregnancy (detailed training and certification requirements of a medical service provider)
- Till when the pregnancy can be terminated
- Where the pregnancy can be terminated (the medical facilities that are required)
Who is eligible to terminate pregnancy medically?
Pregnancy can be terminated only by a Registered Medical Practitioner who meets the following requirements:
- Has been qualified medically as per the Indian Medical Council Act
- Who are registered in the State Medical Register
- Who are trained and experienced in the specialization of gynaecology and obstetrics as per the MTP rules.
There are some proposals to the MTP Act 2014 to include medical practitioners with bachelor’s degree in Ayurveda, Siddha, Unani or Homeopathy as they have Obstetrician and Gynecology (ObGyn) training as a part of their curriculum. Nurses with over three and half years degree and registered with Nursing Council of India are also a part of the proposal to be qualified to performed abortion services.
Where can pregnancy be terminated? (Eligibility of places that provide abortion services)
By default, all government hospitals are qualified/approved places to get pregnancy terminated. Private hospitals need special permission and approval to provide abortion services from the District Level Committee (DLC). The owner of the private place must apply for permission from the DLC and once the DLC certifies that the place is fit to perform the procedure, the qualified doctor(s) can perform the abortion procedures.
Planning to abort pregnancy – Important points to know if you are in India
- A woman can decide to terminate her pregnancy till 12 weeks and only one Registered Medical Practitioner’s (RMP) opinion will suffice. In order to terminate the pregnancy between 12 to 20 weeks, opinion of two RMPs is needed. In either case, the procedure is performed by only one RMP.
- If the woman is an adult, only her consent is enough to get her pregnancy aborted. Note that it is only her ‘consent’ not the decision. It is up to the RMP/doctor to decide whether to proceed with abortion.
- Abortion is totally a private matter. The right to abort pregnancy falls within the grounds of privacy for a woman.
- If the woman is a minor, less than 18 years of age, consent from parents is required.
Why the 20 week rule to abort pregnancy?
In the time when the suggestion was made into an act, gender identification of foetus was not possible until 20 weeks. In order to prevent gender biased abortions, the then government allowed abortion until 20 weeks. However, with the advancement in medical sciences, now the gender of a baby can be found around 10th – 12th week of pregnancy using Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) or by Amniocentesis between 15th – 20th weeks.
One should note that gender detection test is still illegal in India and we strictly abide by the government’s rules in our medical practice.
In India, If a woman is above 18 years of age and is less than 20 weeks in her pregnancy, she can get her pregnancy aborted by any gynecologist. She doesn’t need anyone else’s consent. Aborting a minor needs the consent of her parents and here too the pregnancy should be less than 20 weeks.