Know India's Progressive Abortion Laws that Balance Choice & Life
By: Bharathi Monika Venkatesan, Correspondent
Explore the recent Supreme Court verdict and its impact on women's autonomy, compare India's laws with the evolving U.S. landscape, and travel into the complex ethical and legal questions that shape the global abortion rights debate. A compelling journey towards balance and justice.
The Supreme Court of India recently delivered a split verdict on a plea filed by a 27-year-old woman who sought to terminate her 26-week pregnancy on grounds of mental and physical distress.
The case has ignited a nationwide debate on India's abortion laws, drawing comparisons with the United States, which has recently witnessed significant changes in its abortion landscape.
The 26-week Pregnancy Termination Case
The lady claimed that she was suffering from postpartum psychosis and had attempted suicide, emphasizing her inability to raise another child financially and emotionally. However, the court denied her request, stating that her pregnancy had crossed the upper limit of 24 weeks set by the MTP Act of 1971.
Furthermore, the court deemed that there was no immediate threat to the woman's life or any foetal abnormality. The woman was advised to give the child up for adoption, with the state taking care of the newborn.
The implications of this verdict are far-reaching, as it has ignited a debate between those who view it as a victory for the sanctity of life and those who see it as a violation of women's bodily autonomy and reproductive freedom. To understand this complex issue, we must first examine India's current abortion laws and how they compare to those in other countries.
India's MTP Laws
India's abortion laws are primarily governed by the MTP Act of 1971, with subsequent amendments to expand access and address various aspects of reproductive rights. The Act allows abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy with the consent of one registered medical practitioner and up to 20 weeks with the consent of two registered medical practitioners.
It lays down specific conditions under which abortion can be performed, including when the continuation of pregnancy poses a risk to the life or grave injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or if there is a substantial risk of the child being born with physical or mental abnormalities.
In 2020, the MTP Amendment Act extended the upper limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for certain categories of women, such as survivors of rape, incest, differently-abled individuals, and minors. The amendment also introduced provisions for maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of women seeking abortion and established state-level medical boards to decide on cases beyond 24 weeks.
Abortion Laws Worldwide
To put India's abortion laws in context, it's essential to understand how they compare with other countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that abortion laws vary significantly across the globe, with some nations banning abortion altogether and others allowing it without restrictions. Most countries fall somewhere in between, allowing abortion under specific circumstances and imposing gestational limits.
In 2017, out of 197 countries, six countries banned abortion entirely. Twenty-six countries allowed abortion without any restrictions; One hundred and five countries permitted abortion on broad social or economic grounds; Sixty countries allowed abortion only on specific grounds, such as health risks or foetal impairment. In the United States, abortion laws varied by state and were subject to significant changes, with some states introducing restrictions or bans on abortion.
The U.S. Abortion Landscape
In June 2022, the United States experienced a seismic shift in its abortion landscape. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark decision of Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973. This decision allows states to ban abortion without any exceptions, effectively stripping millions of American women of their constitutional right to abortion.
The implications of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision reverberate throughout the country, with many states passing restrictive abortion laws and others pledging to protect this fundamental right. The United States is now grappling with a fractured abortion landscape, where access to abortion varies significantly depending on the state of residence.
Comparing India & the United States
India and the United States are both federal democracies with diverse populations, cultures, and legal frameworks concerning abortion. India has a uniform abortion law that applies consistently across all states and territories. In contrast, the United States has varying abortion laws that differ by state and jurisdiction resulting in a patchwork of regulations
India allows abortion up to 24 weeks for specific categories of women, while the United States permits abortion up to the point of fetal viability, which typically falls around 22-24 weeks. It requires consent from one or two registered medical practitioners for an abortion, depending on the gestational age. In the United States, consent from a medical practitioner is not a requirement for obtaining an abortion.
The MTP Act specifies various grounds for permitting abortion, including health risks and fetal abnormalities. The United States does not have specific grounds for abortion, but the Roe v. Wade decision recognizes a woman's right to choose abortion within certain limits. The MTP Amendment Act introduced provisions for maintaining the confidentiality and privacy of women seeking an abortion. The United States lacks these specific provisions, with privacy protections primarily stemming from constitutional rights.
India's abortion laws are at the heart of a contentious debate that forces us to weigh the value of a woman's autonomy and agency over her body against the sanctity of life. The recent Supreme Court verdict in the 26-week pregnancy termination case has ignited this discussion, raising questions about women's rights, the role of the state, and the implications of the legal framework.
Comparing India's abortion laws to the changing landscape in the United States highlights the complex and evolving nature of abortion rights worldwide. India's uniform law, expanded gestational limits, and the MTP Amendment Act, 2021, show progress in recognizing and safeguarding women's rights. However, the recent verdict challenges the full realization of these rights, emphasizing the need for continued dialogue and advocacy for reproductive justice.
As societies evolve and confront the complex ethical, legal, and medical questions surrounding abortion, it is imperative to balance the rights of women with the responsibilities of the state and the sanctity of life. Achieving this balance is a continuous endeavour that requires compassion, empathy, and a commitment to the well-being of all individuals involved, ultimately reflecting the values and aspirations of a just and equitable society.