In a historic overreach of power, the United States Supreme Court officially overturned Roe V. Wade on Friday, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld for nearly a half-century, no longer exists.
As one of the world’s most developed countries grapples with a future without bodily autonomy for women, what do abortion laws look like in India?
Abortion Laws in India
In India, abortion is permitted on medical opinion under certain circumstances to a specified limit. Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code criminalizes the intentional causing of miscarriage if it was not done in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of the woman. Abortions are allowed if the woman’s life was in danger of physical or mental harm, or if there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped.
In 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed, allowing pregnancies up to twenty weeks of pregnancy. The ceiling for abortions was lifted due to a 2021 amendment, to twenty-four weeks for special circumstances such as rape, or incest, with the approval of two registered doctors.
The Reality of the Situation
While there is some bodily autonomy given to women in deciding what to do with their bodies, the situation is far from perfect. The laws are laid down on paper, but reality doesn’t necessarily reflect this.
According to the United Nations Population Fund, at least eight women die from unsafe abortions in India every day. Unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal deaths in India, and between 2007-2011, 67% of the abortions conducted in India were considered unsafe.
Most women in backward areas simply do not have the resources for safe abortions. In rural India, self-anointed medicine women use plants, seeds, and roots to terminate a pregnancy, which leads to infections and sometimes, even death. So there are laws to protect their rights but no channels through which they can access this right.
Social Stigma: “What will people say?”
There is also a social stigma women in India have to face when trying to get an abortion. The 2021 amendment gives unmarried women a right to abortion due to failure of contraception but that is frowned upon and many doctors don’t accept such patients. Furthermore, despite the law specifying that a woman doesn’t require her husband’s permission for an abortion, often doctors see it fit to secure permission to go ahead with the procedure from the husband or parents of the patient.