File Copyright Online - File mutual Divorce in Delhi - Online Legal Advice - Lawyers in India

Abortion Laws in India: A Historical Overview

This article delves into abortion laws in India and also tracks its historical trajectory. It further looks upon the intricacies of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 and also sheds light on the impact of abortion laws on Indian society and also discusses the way forward.

In the past, the notion regarding terminating pregnancies, also known as abortions, was conflicted. Earlier, society viewed abortion as something which is non-sacrosanct or evil. Because of these stereotypical notions, abortion was prohibited in India. Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code explicitly states that "voluntarily causing miscarriage, even when the miscarriage is with the consent of women", is a criminal offence.

However, over time, the awareness regarding rights in Indian society gained pace as equality and liberty were deeply pressed upon. As the idea of rights slowly held the momentum and gained important significance in Indian society; as a result, the discussion for legislation relating to abortions started in the 1960s when the government set up the Shantilal Shah committee.

The committee was assigned to analyze the state of abortions in the country and whether laws must be framed to regulate abortions. In 1964, the committee presented a report in the Lok Sabha which emphasized the "liberalization of abortion laws in India", as a result of which the "Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971" was enacted.

This act was enacted to regulate terminations of pregnancies in the country. Subsequently, as time elapsed and the Indian society changed, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 was unable to cope as some provisions did not align with the current mentality of the society; for example, Section 3(2)(b) of the 1971 act[1] did not allow for termination of pregnancies if it exceeded 20 weeks. There are assorted tests done specifically after the 20th week of pregnancy to check for any foetal abnormality.

The court, in some cases like Mamta Verma v. Union of India[2], Meera Santosh Pal v. Union of India [3], allowed termination of pregnancies if it was essential to protect the life of the woman where pregnancies exceeded twenty weeks.

It must also be taken into cognizance that according to the MTP Act, 1971, even married women, if they wanted to terminate their pregnancy, needed to prove that failure of contraceptives led to their pregnancy. It can be stated that this led to violation of their right to privacy when seen from the perspective of present society's thinking patterns.

In 1971 there were not many high technological developments currently present in the 21st century; as a result, new provisions were needed to keep pace with the changing Indian society. Hence, the act was amended. It became known as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021, which liberalized Indian society from the old rusty chains of the previous act. The MTP Act of 1975 was amended in 1975 and 2002, which did not bring any major changes. However, with introducing a new amendment in 2021, it attempted to cover the shortcomings of the previous amendments and the original act with its new set amendments.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

The MTP Act's legislative history and the speech of Health and Family Welfare's minister during the introduction of the Amendment Bill provide insight into why the "MTP Amendment Act 2021"[4] was necessary. Dr. Vardhan, the former Minister, explained that the motive of increasing the upper gestational limit beyond 20 weeks in the newly amended act was to improve the availability of comprehensive abortion care for specific groups of women. He noted that many petitions were filed in the Supreme Court and High Courts seeking permission for abortions beyond the twenty-week limit, which introduced the long-awaited amendment.

The MTP (Amendment Act) 2021 attempted to expand the provisions of the statute provided to all women, even those who were single and unmarried. By increasing the maximum period for a pregnancy to be terminated from twenty to twenty-four weeks, the MTP Amendment Act 2021, which became effective on September 24, 2021, substantially modified Section 3 of the MTP Act.

Pregnancy could only be ended under Section 3(2) of the unamended MTP Act if it did not exceed 20 weeks.[5] The upper limit was raised by the MTP Amendment Act 2021. It allowed termination of pregnancy up to twenty-four weeks for specific categories of women based on the opinion of two registered medical practitioners. Section 3 is one of the most important provisions of the newly amended act as it extends the termination of pregnancy limit to 24 weeks.

Recently Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment, declared that unmarried women are also allowed to obtain an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks if the relationship was consensual under the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021.[6] It also referred to the MTP Act's exclusion of unmarried women to seek abortion (who became pregnant due to a live-in relationship) as "unconstitutional."

Now this marks a huge stepping stone towards the abortion rights of women, and this act as a precedent for similar upcoming cases and can help Indian society become a society which advocates the bodily autonomy of women and their right to seek an abortion. The main question before the bench was why only married women were allowed abortions as Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy ( Amendment) Act specifically replaced the "husband" word with "partner" to cover unmarried women also.

Impact Of Abortion Laws In India

These abortion laws in India haul a mental change, a revolution to throw away the patriarchal notions of abortion rights which were earlier prevalent. It is clear that termination of pregnancy, if not permitted, especially in a society like India, can cause mental agony to the women and ultimately can lead to suicide as there is already a high suicide rate as there is psychological pressure on women on how she will look after the child, will she be able to manage the responsibility of the child?

These questions constantly pop up in her head, leading to other mental problems. If there is no pregnancy termination, a woman has to carry the child and fulfil her responsibilities towards the child, which may not be possible for her, be it financially or in any other aspect.

This abortion law act as a significant precedent in the legal field. It can help structure the socio-legal stature of a country like India, where a social stigma is still attached to abortion, and people initially oppose abortion. If, in any case, it becomes necessary, then they opt for unsafe abortion methods, which hampers the growth of the country in the progressive direction where a woman is entitled to reproductive as well as bodily autonomy; this stigma regarding termination of pregnancies causes hindrance and instead of women aborting the child in cases which is necessary ends up taking unsafe abortion pills or adopting to unsafe methods of abortion. Abortion laws provide a broader way of promoting women's bodily autonomy and rights.

Abortion Laws in India: Supportive of Right to abort notion

It can be seen that newly enacted and amended laws in India support the notion of the Right to Abortion. For instance, it can be stated that the MTP (Amendment) Act 2021 aligns with and supports the notion of the Right To Abortion.

It is a known fact that many women suffer from forced pregnancy due to the failure of contraceptives. In fact, eight women die every day in a country like India due to unsafe abortion, meaning a high maternal mortality rate exists. To fix this right to terminate a pregnancy should undoubtedly be given. The amended MTP Act 2021 broadens the horizons for women so that women can opt for safe abortion, and in this way, the MTP (Amendment) Act 2021 supports the right to abortion.[7]

The abortion act as a preventable cause of maternal deaths and the act supporting the notion of abortions empowers Indian women, which is still unavailable to women in developed countries like the United States of America as there is a whole controversy around the turning of Roe v. Wade judgement, which laid down the rule that Right to abortion is a constitutional right and established the fact that women have complete autonomy on her body and can a obtain an abortion as it is constitutional. So, recently a piece of news was out stating that the Supreme Court of the USA is about to overturn the Roe v. Wade judgement; many social activists and groups opposed this as it would take away the constitutional right of a woman to abort.

For the reformation of the socio-legal scenario in a country like India, more reforms are needed in this field. More laws in this field can develop a trajectory towards a more enlightened society where women know their termination rights. "The abortion laws in India can be hailed as progressive as it entitles all women a right to safe and legal abortion along with an emphasis on their right to bodily autonomy without authorization from a third party."

Compared to current laws in other nations like the US, UK and many others countries. India's position and legal framework on this contentious issue of abortions are progressive in many ways. The Indian Parliament must continuously consider the requirements of public policy with regard to the liberalisation of these laws.

Additionally, the judiciary has taken an active role in interpreting the MTP Act's provisions broadly as part of its activism, which is also evident from a recent Supreme Court verdict which established the fact clearly that unmarried women can also abort under the new MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021.

The abortion laws in India are evolving as more pragmatic as it keeps the clinic open for abortions.

  • Mtp-Act-1971.Pdf accessed 10 April 2023.
  • Mamta Verma v. Union of India, (2018 ) 14 SCC 289
  • Meera Santosh Pal v. Union of India (2017) 3 SCC 462
  • 226130.Pdf accessed 10 April 2023.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021: A Legislation of Feterred Autonomy' accessed 10 April 2023.
  • Jagriti Chandra, Supreme Court Ruling on Abortion Comes as a Ray of Hope, Say Activists' The Hindu (29 September 2022) accessed 10 April 2023.
  • Amended Abortion Rights in India | ORF accessed 10 April 2023.

Law Article in India

Ask A Lawyers

You May Like

Legal Question & Answers

Lawyers in India - Search By City

Copyright Filing
Online Copyright Registration


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi


How To File For Mutual Divorce In Delhi Mutual Consent Divorce is the Simplest Way to Obtain a D...

Increased Age For Girls Marriage


It is hoped that the Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021, which intends to inc...

Facade of Social Media


One may very easily get absorbed in the lives of others as one scrolls through a Facebook news ...

Section 482 CrPc - Quashing Of FIR: Guid...


The Inherent power under Section 482 in The Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (37th Chapter of t...

The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) in India: A...


The Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is a concept that proposes the unification of personal laws across...

Role Of Artificial Intelligence In Legal...


Artificial intelligence (AI) is revolutionizing various sectors of the economy, and the legal i...

Lawyers Registration
Lawyers Membership - Get Clients Online

File caveat In Supreme Court Instantly