Medical Termination of Pregnancy in India

MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY IN INDIA

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) is commonly known as abortion. According to Cambridge Dictionary it is defined as the intentional ending of a pregnancy. There are two ways to achieve abortion. It can be either medical abortion or surgical abortion. While the former is a way of aborting a way through pills, the latter involves doctors removing the fetus directly from the womb.

IS MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY LEGAL IN INDIA?

Abortion in India is legal in certain situations. The various situations include unmarried girls, rape victims, any kind of disability, married women, threat to the life of the mother etc. Earlier before 1970s, intentional termination of pregnancy was a crime under Indian Penal Code, 1860. Any woman who were to abort her baby was charged and held liable to be punished with imprisonment up to seven years or fine or both. Abortion was only allowed if the life of the pregnant woman was at stake.

Banning abortion could not stop women from doing it. They started to resort to unsafe abortions secretly. Many a times the surgery was not carried out by authentic, registered and qualified medical professionals that often led to fatal results. Security and safety during these illegal conducts of abortions was compromised endangering life of those women. This led to an increase in maternal mortality. As a result, the then Government had to establish a committee called the Shah Committed which was to look into the matter of abortion and critically analyze it to come with an answer for this dangerous issue.

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A complete review was needed to solve this problem which included assessing its effects and the category of women who generally opted to do it. The Committee found out that abortion was opted not only by unmarried women but also by married women who did not want to continue their pregnancy be it because of their health or family planning. This sort of banning pregnancy not only deteriorated women’s physical health but also their mental health. The Shah Committed then recommended for abortion to be legalized to counteract these problems and to reduce the maternal mortality rate. Therefore, the Parliament enacted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971. The Act came into force on April 1st, 1972.

MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY ACT, 1971

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was enacted after the recommendation by the Shah Committee. The Act was later amended twice. The first amendment took place in 1975 and later in 2002. According to this Act, the term abortion refers to the intentional medical termination of pregnancy in two accepted ways.

  • Medical Abortion: If a woman is pregnant for less than seven weeks and she does not want to go further with the pregnancy then she can undergo a medical abortion. This kind of abortion involves terminating pregnancy with the use of pills and other kinds of medications. This kind of abortion is a non-surgical method but this does not mean that the presence of a physician is not required.
  • Surgical Abortion: If a woman is pregnant for more than seven weeks and she does not want to go further with the pregnancy then she can opt for a surgical abortion. This kind of abortion provides surety of the termination of the pregnancy. Surgery is performed by a medical professional who has the skills and authority to do it.
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Surgical abortion is allowed up to twelve weeks of pregnancy with the approval of a medical pregnancy. For termination of pregnancy between 12-20 weeks, approval of two medical professionals is required. In India, when someone terminates the pregnancy after the prescribed legal period for an abortion then it is referred as feticide.

WHO CAN TERMINATE A PREGNANCY?

Any medical institution which has been provided by the Government of India the license to perform medically assisted abortions in India can go forward with the abortion. The institution will also have to show an issuing certificate by the government as well. There are some qualifications, one or more of which needs to be fulfilled by the doctor who has to terminate the pregnancy. Firstly the doctor must have had performed at least twenty-five of the medically assisted termination of pregnancies in India. Secondly, he/she must have a diploma or degree in obstetrics and gynecology. Thirdly, he/she must have six months of experience in obstetrics and gynecology. Lastly, if a doctor has registered before enactment of the MTP Act, 1971 and has at least three years of experience in obstetrics and gynecology, he/she can practice MTP.

WHEN IS IT LEGAL TO PERFORM AN MTP?

As mentioned before, Medical Termination of Pregnancy is allowed only in certain situations. There is no legal age for abortion in India (for unmarried woman, she should be at least eighteen years of age), however, parental approval is necessary if the woman is a minor. Is the person who is getting an abortion is an adult then she is under no obligation to obtain parental or spousal approval beforehand.

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The legality of an abortion is allowed only in these situations.

  • If the continuation of the pregnancy is a threat to the woman’s physical or mental health
  • If the fetus has a risk of getting physically or mentally disabled
  • If the woman has a serious disease and the pregnancy would be fatal to her
  • If the pregnant woman catches Rubella during the first trimester
  • If there is a threat of the fetus to have a congenital abnormality (if any of the woman’s previous children have congenital abnormality)
  • If the fetus has been exposed to radiation
  • If the pregnancy is the result of a rape
  • If the fetus has RH disease
  • If the pregnancy is the result of failure of a contraceptive device
  • If the woman’s pregnancy will be hampered due to her socioeconomic status

If a rape victim crosses the legal abortion period, then too she can continue the abortion given that this termination of pregnancy would not endanger the woman’s life.

If any person voluntarily causes a woman to lose her baby through miscarriage then that person is liable to be punished. The punishment includes imprisonment up to three years, or fine, or both.

According to Indian Abortion laws, a woman cannot abort the baby if she is with a child, that is, if the gestation period has begun then she cannot go further with the termination of the pregnancy. She cannot terminate the pregnancy if the child’s motion can be felt by her. If a woman is with a child and still terminated the pregnancy then she is liable to be punished for imprisonment up to seven years with fine.

Author: Saumya Shreya,
National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam (First Year)

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