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 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
Santosh Pal v. Union of India
, allowed termination of pregnancies if it
was essential to protect the life of the woman where pregnancies exceeded twenty
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" 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. 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. 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
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
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
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.
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