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.