According to oxford, language Abortion is defined as the deliberate termination
of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of
pregnancy. Definition of abortion may defer from one source to another. Abortion
is the termination of a pregnancy by removal or expulsion of an embryo or foetus.
It is said to be one of the safest medical procedures if done properly. Modern
methods use medication or surgery for abortion. The word Abortion is used for
induced abortion, an abortion that occurs naturally and without intervention is
known as a miscarriage. Abortion performed under medical supervision is the
safest whereas unsafe abortion is a major cause of maternal deaths. Medical
abortion and surgical abortion are two types of abortion that can be performed
Abortion is legal in many countries, but some countries are still struggling to
put in legal abortion because of various reasons concerning medical termination
of a pregnancy. India has legalized abortion under the Medical Termination of
Pregnancy Act 1971. The act is called ahead of its time in giving reproductive
rights to the citizens of the country. The act has been amended over various
years bringing in the necessary changes it required with time.
Abortion is a very sensitive topic of discussion. But with the right laws in
place, it can be used for the welfare of the citizens of the country. A complete
abortion ban cannot be acceptable anywhere. There are a number of reasons which
make abortion an absolute necessity. The right can be used for unethical
reasons, that's where legislation comes in, to make sure that it is used for
necessary reasons and not misused by the public.
Unsafe abortion is a major concern, and it is seen mainly in the countries where
abortion is not legal or even if its legal safe measure of abortion is not
accessible for the general public. The World Health Organization states that
"access to legal, safe and comprehensive abortion care, including post-abortion
care, is essential for the attainment of the highest possible level of sexual
and reproductive health".
According to research the rate of abortion in
countries where it is legal is the same rate in the countries where it's
illegal. 45% of abortions performed are unsafe and done without medical
supervision. It is a major issue in developing countries where people lack
awareness and the basic facilities required for safe abortion. Unsafe abortion
is a grave public crisis, and it is also one of the leading causes of death
during pregnancy and childbirth. WHO has labeled safe abortion as a "fundamental
right of women irrespective of where they live" and unsafe abortion as a "silent
The measure taken to reduce this silent pandemic should be:
- Making abortion legal and providing reproductive rights legal
- Accessibility to safe abortion and proper birth control measures
- Awareness about family planning and reproductive rights
- Affordable medical and health facilities
- Availability of modern birth controls
Abortion rights come within the purview of reproductive legal rights given to
WHO has defined reproductive rights as:
Reproductive rights rest on the recognition of the basic right of all couples
and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing
of their children and to have the information and means to do so, and the right
to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health. They also
include the right of all to make decisions concerning reproduction free of
discrimination, coercion, and violence.
Many international organizations have supported the legalization of abortion and
looked upon lack of freedom on reproductive rights as "gender-based violence".
The rights of the women's body should depend upon the women. Abortion should be
a legal right given to women everywhere. The UN has estimated in 2017 that
repealing anti-abortion laws would save the lives of nearly 50,000 women a year.
Abortion has been performed in the past using many herbal remedies. Abortion was
practiced in ancient times as well. There's an abortion performed by barbers
mentioned in the Ramayana. An 8th-century Sanskrit text instructs women wishing
to induce an abortion to sit over a pot of steam or stewed onion. There's
evidence suggesting abortion was performed in Japan in the 12th century. In
Greek and Roman, abortion was performed was midwives in the early stages of the
There were various theories and myths related to abortion in the
Greek world. Jewish believed in the priority of a mother's life over the foetus
and thus abortion was acceptable. Stoics morally accepted abortion, they
believed foetus to be plant-like and not animal life. Aristotle quoted abortion
as "the line between lawful and unlawful abortion will be marked by the fact of
having sensation and being alive." In Christianity, foetus is considered a human
being, and abortion is condemned upon.
There was a wide change in the 19th century regarding abortion. Abortion was
legal under the common law at early stages but in the English-speaking
countries, it was not permitted at any stage. the English law on abortion was
first codified in legislation under sections 1 and 2 of the Malicious Shooting
or Stabbing Act 1803.
The Bill was proposed by the Lord Chief Justice of England
and Wales, Edward Law, 1st Baron Ellenborough to clarify the law relating to
abortion and was the first law to explicitly outlaw it. The Act provided that it
was an offence for any person to perform or cause an abortion. The punishment
for performing or attempting to perform a post quickening abortion was the death
penalty (section 1) and otherwise was transportation for fourteen years (section
In 19th century America, abortion was not regulated much, it was performed
in various states during the 1840s. but things changed quickly from the 1820s
some anti-abortion statutes were carried out, American medical association
condemned abortion. Some states put stringent punishments and by 1910 every
state had anti-abortion laws. France accepted abortion as a social necessity and
a part of family and health planning.
In India, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in the year 1971.
Before the act, Abortion was a criminal offence under section 312 of the Indian
Penal code 1880. It was an offence to perform an abortion except when the
mother's life was at stake. Someone who caused a woman to go through abortion
would be punishable for 3 years and or a fine and if a woman herself performs
abortion she would be punishable for 7 years and or fine. Even after 50 years of
legislation of abortion under MTP 1971, section 312 of India Penal code 1880 is
still a criminal offence. And the act serves as an exception.
During the 1960s, abortion was legal in 15 countries, the Ministry of Health and
Family needed to set up and provide the legal framework for abortion in India,
as well as the number of abortions, was increasing in the country. The
government appointed the Shah committee led by Mr. Shantilal Shah in 1964 to
come with a suggestion for the drafting of abortion laws in India.
carried out thorough research keeping in mind the socio-economic, legal, and
medical aspects. The report was prepared in 1966, according to the report, there
will be around 3.9 million induced abortions every year. The report recommended
legalizing abortion. The report was accepted in 1970 and the bill was introduced
in the Parliament.
India set up a committee to legalize abortion when only 15 countries in the
world had made it legal. When MTP was enacted it was largely modeled on the
Abortion Act 1967 of the United Kingdom. The legalisation made sure to give
reproductive rights to the women of the country. The MTP act has been amended
over the years to bring in the necessary changes. Though the government has
provided all the necessary legal framework for safe abortion still the country
needs a lot of improvement in actually letting the act work for the benefit of
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971:
The MTP act was passed by both the houses in parliament in August 1971
recommended by the Shah Committee.
The MTP allowed abortion up to 20 weeks of
gestation as detailed below:
- When the continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of the mother,
or it causes graved mental and physical trauma.
- When there is a substantial risk that the child, if born or dead would
be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities
- When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to
the mental health of the woman).
- When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a
married woman or her husband.
The MTP act specifies that abortion should be performed by a Medical
Professional under Indian law. The consent of only pregnant women is required
for termination of pregnancy but in the case of minor or mentally ill, consent
of a guardian is required.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, Amendments 2002
The MTP Act was amended for the first time in 2002 and passed in 2003. The act
empowered the district level to give authorization to a private place. A
committee should be formed at the district level comprising of
gynecologist/surgeon/ anaesthetist and one member should be a woman. It
empowered the CMO to select the private place, they seem satisfied with. The act
also introduced strict and stringent punishments for MTP being conducted in
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, Amendment 2021
The MTP Act was again amended in 2021 bringing in the necessary changes and
introducing the needed guidelines. The bill was introduced in January 2020 and
was passed by both the houses on March 16, 2021.
The major amendments introduced
to the act were:
- Earlier only married women could seek abortion on the grounds of
contraceptive failure, the bill expanded this to unmarried women as well.
- Under MTP Act, termination up to 12 weeks of gestation was allowed on the
advice of one doctor and up to 20 weeks on the advice of 2 doctors. After 20
weeks termination was not permitted. But the bill now allowed all women to
terminate pregnancy till 20 weeks of gestation and special categorized women
(survivors of sexual abuse, minors, victims of rape, incest, differently-abled
women) can seek termination up to 24 weeks.
- A Medical board should be constituted in all the states and union
territories of the country including a gynecologist, radiologist/oncologist,
pediatrician, and other members notified by the government. the board will
be authorized to terminate the pregnancy even after 24 weeks if fetal
abnormalities arise during any period of time.
- The confidentiality of the women seeking termination will be maintained
by the medical professionals.
Gender based sex selection and termination
Female infantized is a major issue in India. People can determine the gender of
the child through illegal means and can then decide to terminate the pregnancy.
Medical professionals often fear this and usually decide not to terminate a
pregnancy. The MTP should not be misused in such a way and the legislation
should make sure that the act is not being misused by the citizens to commit the
felony of female infantize.
Unsafe Abortion in India
India is a developing country and usually lacks the resources to provide free
and safe health facilities to all its citizens. Unsafe abortion is practiced a
lot in India. It is reported around 56% of abortions are unsafe. It is
especially prevalent in the rural areas where there is illiteracy and a lack of
basic facilities present for safe medical termination of pregnancy. There is a
lot of stigmas attached to abortion as well which makes it difficult for women
to get medical supervision.
It is estimated around 13 women die every day due to
unsafe abortion in the country and it is the third leading cause of maternal
deaths in the country. The citizens should be aware of the rights and the
government should make sure that all the facilities needed should be provided to
safeguard the health of the women of the country.
The MTP 1973 allowed women to have an abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation on
the advice of one doctor and up to 20 weeks of gestation on the advice of two
doctors. It was amended in the MTP amendment act 2021. It allowed abortion up to
20 weeks on the advice of one doctor and up to 24 weeks on the advice of two
doctors, special provisions were mentioned, and the said cases would be allowed
to terminate the pregnancy at any time on the advice of medical professionals.
The supreme court has bided by the act and given many rightful decisions over
the years. The judiciary over the years handled many cases on abortion decided
whether abortion should be granted or not and the decision was based on all the
important parameters regarding the case. Here are a few landmark decisions by
the Supreme Court of India regarding The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act:
Suchita Srivastava v Chandigarh 
In this 2009 case, a landmark decision was delivered by the three benches of the
Supreme Court. Court held that woman's right to make reproductive choices was a
component of the right to personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
A women's right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity should be respected.
It was an important decision that set the course for future decisions by the
Murugan Narayakar v Union of India &Ors 
The apex court allowed the termination of 32 weeks pregnancy of a 13-year-old
rape victim. The court held that the physical and mental trauma of the victim
should be kept in mind and on the advice of the medical board, the supreme court
gave the decision in 2017.
XYZ V the State of Maharashtra 
The petition was filed by a deaf and illiterate woman who is a resident of the
Tehsil district in Maharashtra in 2021. The victim was gangraped and later when
checked by a doctor she was 22 weeks pregnant. The district rejected the court
rejected her petition to terminate her pregnancy as the limit prescribed by the
MTP act is 20 weeks up to gestation. The case was taken to the supreme court and
the three-judge bench allowed the termination and stated the petition will
suffer grave injury to mental health on the continuation of the pregnancy.
Mira Santosh V. Union of India 
Women filed a petition in Supreme Court to undergo termination in her 24 weeks
of pregnancy. The medical board advised that the woman would but not undergo
grave mental and physical injury, but the foetus will not able be to survive the
extrauterine life, and Supreme Court ordered the termination.
Savita Sachin Patil V. Union of India 
In this case, the petitioner was in her 26th week of pregnancy and wanted a
termination but the Supreme court rejected her plea. The medical board set up by
the court reported that the foetus will "likely" be able to survive with no
physical and mental danger. The supreme court gave the decision on the grounds
of foetus likely being able to survive.
The judiciary of India over the years has given several decisions on
reproductive rights. An important feature of this decision is the recommendation
of the Medical Board. the Medical Board's findings on the continuation and
termination of pregnancy, which becomes the determining factor for the Court.
The court has been criticized for depending their decisions more on the finding
of the Medical Board rather than the women's own decisions. The reproductive
rights of women should be considered and as the court has stated that the bodily
integrity of the women should be respected.
Different countries around the world have different laws on abortion. Abortion
is a sensitive issue and controversial topic. People usually term abortion as
murder and consider it against the right of life. It makes it difficult for
lawmakers to draw laws that are beneficial to society concerning abortion. Most
European countries including the UK, Switzerland, New Zealand, and some Asian
countries including India, China, and North Korea have liberal abortion laws.
But at the same time, Arab countries including Pakistan, UAE, Saudi Arabia,
Myanmar have restrictive abortion laws. The catholic church believes the foetus
to be a human and abortion is a crime against humanity, so the Latin countries
and some states of the USA have very restrictive or almost no abortion laws.
Recently Mexico has criminalized abortion.
In the United States, there's always a debate between the Republicans and
Democrats over the legalization of abortion. The conservative supporters who
profess Christianity believe that more the moment the foetus has a heartbeat, it
becomes a growing life and rallies the pro-life movement whereas the democrats
on the other side believe reproductive rights and bodily autonomy should be
given to the women. The USA has a federal form of government; states have the
authority to make laws for the concerned states.
Roe V. Wade
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) was a landmark decision of the U.S. Supreme
Court in which the Court ruled that the Constitution of the United States
protects a pregnant woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without
excessive government restriction. The case was filed by Norwan McCovey who used
the pseudonym Jane Roe for the case. She was 21 years and pregnant with her
third child. Roe lived in Texas where it was illegal to get an abortion except
when necessary to save the mother's life. Roe filed a lawsuit against the states
on the grounds that Texas abortion laws were unconstitutional.
In January 1973,
the Supreme Court issued a 7–2 decision ruling that the Due Process Clause of
the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a "right to privacy"
that protects a pregnant woman's right to choose whether or not to have an
abortion. But it also ruled that this right is not absolute and must be balanced
against the government's interests in protecting women's health.
The law in Texas gave more relaxation for abortion in 1963 than in the year
2021. Texas made it illegal to get an abortion after a foetus is detected which
is around six weeks of pregnancy. It is said to be the most restrictive abortion
law in the United States.
The catholic church has a lot of influence in Latin American. It's the area with
the most restrictive abortion laws. El Salvador, Mexico has given almost no
reproductive rights to the women of the country.
Abortion is always going to be a controversial and important subject to make
laws on. It is the responsibility of the legislations to make laws that would
serve as the best possible solutions to the problems of society. Abortion comes
under the reproductive rights of women. It still is shocking to see how many
countries have issues regarding abortion.
The right to have a legal and safe abortion is a fundamental human right as
declared by many national and international bodies. But it is a right which
people should be made aware of. The stigmas and myths regarding abortion which
leads to various illegal and unsafe methods should be eradicated. People should
be educated regarding reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. The resources
required for safe and legal abortion should be made available to everyone.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures if done under proper medical
supervision but at the same time, Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes
of maternal deaths in the world.
Laws on termination of pregnancy get a lot of criticism and hatred as it is
considered against some people's moral, religious, and ethical values. But
reproductive rights are a human right. Everyone should have a right to bodily
autonomy. The countries and areas still facing issues on making proper laws on
abortion need to step up and give reproductive rights to the citizens of the
India's MTP act is a step in the right direction. India has the second-highest
population in the world. Reproductive rights and family planning are very
important for the country. India has made laws on abortion and reproductive
rights and has been praised by international bodies for it. But are these laws
actually effective? To an extent they are but unsafe abortion is still a major
issue in the country. Despite the existence of MTP, women face a lot of
difficulties undergoing termination. The country needs to make changes and
provide the proper resources and awareness to the citizen of the country for the
betterment of the society as a whole.
- Wikipedia contributors. "Abortion." Wikipedia, 14 Nov. 2021,
- Khazan, Olga. "How Many Women Die From Illegal Abortions." The Atlantic, 11
- "Unsafe Abortion." Wikipedia, 29 Sept. 2021,
- "Reproductive Rights." Wikipedia, 23 Oct. 2021,
- Santamarina, Daniela Youjin Shin. "How Abortion Laws in the U.S. Compare to
Those in Other Countries." Washington Post, 27 Sept. 2021,
- Centre for Law & Policy Research. "Abortion Jurisprudence in the Supreme
Court of India: Is It the Woman's Choice at All?" Centre for Law & Policy
Research, 4 Apr. 2020, clpr.org.in/blog/abortion-jurisprudence-in-the-supreme-court-of-india-is-it-the-womans-choice-at-all.
- (2009) 9 SCC 1
- (2017) SCC OnLine SC 1906
- (2017) 13 SCC 436