An abortion is the medical process of ending a pregnancy so it does not result in the birth of a baby.
It is also sometimes known as a ‘termination’ or a ‘termination of pregnancy’.
Depending on how many weeks you have been pregnant, the pregnancy is ended either by taking medication or by having a surgical procedure.
An abortion is not the same as a miscarriage, which is where the pregnancy is lost or ends naturally. The loss starts without medical intervention, although medical or surgical treatment may be needed after a miscarriage has started to help empty the womb.
Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations which are broadly defined as:
- the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health, or
- there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
The Indian abortion law falls under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Indian Parliament in the year 1971 with the intention of reducing the incidence of illegal abortion and consequent maternal mortality and morbidity. The MTP Act came into effect from 1 April 1972 and was amended in the years 1975 and 2002.
When can it be done?
Pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks may be terminated based on a single opinion formed in good faith. In case of pregnancies exceeding 12 weeks but less than 20 weeks, termination needs opinion of two doctors. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of India clearly states the conditions under which a pregnancy can be ended or aborted, the persons who are qualified to conduct the abortion and the place of implementation.
Some of these qualifications are as follows:
- Women whose physical and/or mental health were endangered by the pregnancy
- Women facing the birth of a potentially handicapped or malformed child
- Pregnancies in unmarried girls under the age of eighteen with the consent of a guardian
- Pregnancies in “lunatics” with the consent of a guardian
- Pregnancies that are a result of failure in sterilization
- If a woman is married, her own written consent is sufficient. Her husband’s consent is not required
- If a woman is unmarried and over 18, she can provide her own written consent
- If a woman is unmarried and under 18, she must provide written consent from her guardian
- If a woman is mentally unstable, she must provide written consent from her guardian
Where and Who can perform the abortion?
Abortions can be performed in any medical institution that is licensed by the government to perform medically assisted terminations of pregnancy. Such institutions must display a certificate issued by the government.
Abortions must be performed by a doctor with one of the following qualifications:
- A registered medical practitioner who has performed at least 25 medically assisted terminations of pregnancy
- A surgeon who has six months’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A person who has a diploma or degree in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A doctor who was registered before the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and who has three years’ experience in obstetrics and gynaecology
- A doctor who registered after 1971 and has been practising in obstetrics and gynaecology for at least a year
Types of Abortion treatment:
There are two types of abortion treatment, ‘Medical’ and ‘Surgical’ abortion:
Medical abortion: A type of non-surgical abortion which involves taking medication to cause an early miscarriage. This an option for women who are 10 weeks pregnant or less.
Abortion pill from 10 weeks up to 24 weeks: Involves taking medication to cause the womb to contract and push out the pregnancy.
Surgical abortion: Surgical abortion is a procedure that ends a pregnancy by removing the fetus and placenta from the mother’s womb and involves a quick, minor operation. There are two types of surgical abortion:
Vacuum aspiration (first trimester) which removes the pregnancy by gentle suction with local anaesthetic.
Dilation and evacuation is done when an abortion occurs in (second trimester) of pregnancy. It usually includes a combination of vacuum aspiration, dilation and curettage and the use of surgical instruments (such as forceps) to clear the uterus of fetal and placental tissue.
According to The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and Prevention of Misuse) Amendment Act, 2002 the following are cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offences:
- Conducting or associating or helping to conduct Pre-Natal Diagnostic tests for determining the sex of the foetus.
- Sex selection on a woman or a man or both on any tissue, embryo, conceptus fluid or gametes derived from either or both of them
- Advertisement or communication in any form in print, by electronic media or internet by units, medical professionals or companies on the availability of sex determination and sex selection in the form of services, medicines, or any kind of techniques.
Providers are punishable by three years imprisonment and a Rs. 10,000 fine (five years imprisonment and a Rs. 50,000 fine for subsequent offence); those who seek aid are be punishable with a term that may extend to three years and a fine that may extend to Rs 50,000 for the first offence and for any subsequent offence with imprisonment which may extend to five years and with fine which may increase to Rs. 100,000.