Abortion Laws in India

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What’s in today’s article?

  • Why in the News?
  • Abortion Laws in India
  • Major Provisions of the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021
  • Important Judgement(s) by the Supreme Court w.r.t. Abortion
  • Rights of a Foetus Under Indian Law
  • News Summary
  • Key Observations Made by the Court

Why in the News?

  • The Supreme Court on May 15 refused to entertain a plea of a 20-year-old unmarried woman seeking termination of her over 27-week pregnancy, saying the foetus in the womb also has a fundamental right to live.

Abortion Laws in India

  • The law on abortion in India is primarily governed by Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code and the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
  • The MTP Act 1971, by laying down certain permissible grounds under which a woman can undertake medical termination of pregnancy, creates an exception to the general law against abortion.
  • In March 2021, the Parliament passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 to amend the MTP Act, 1971.
  • The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 has expanded the access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian and social grounds to ensure universal access to comprehensive care.
  • The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 came into force in September, 2021.

Major Provisions of the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Increase in Gestation Periods:
    • The Amendment Act increases the maximum gestational limit for pregnancies that may be aborted on the advice of one 'registered medical practitioner' from 12 weeks to 20 weeks.
    • For pregnancies that may be aborted on the advice of two medical practitioners, the limit has been raised to 24 weeks.
    • Earlier, if the length of the pregnancy was over 20 weeks and a woman wished to undergo a termination, she would have to file a writ petition before the High Court concerned or the Supreme Court.
  • Recognition of Pregnancies outside of Traditional Marriages:
    • The Amendment reflects the change in definition from "pregnant married woman" to "pregnant woman" and from "her husband" to "her partner".
  • Termination due to Failure of Contraceptive Method/Device:
    • Another laudable amendment is the inclusion of unwanted pregnancies due to the failure of contraceptives as a ground for abortion.
    • Under the original MTP Act, abortions could take place only by proving that there was grave risk to the pregnant woman or grave risk of serious physical or mental abnormality.
  • Setting up of Medical Boards:
    • All state and union territory governments will constitute a Medical Board.
    • The Board will decide if a pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks due to substantial foetal abnormalities.
    • Earlier, medical boards are created by various High Courts and Supreme Court after entertaining writs filed by women and were not in any way statutorily mandated.
  • Privacy:
    • A registered medical practitioner may only reveal the details of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated to a person authorised by law.

Important Judgement(s) by the Supreme Court w.r.t. Abortion

  • X v/s NCT of Delhi (2022):
    • In this judgement, the Supreme Court held that termination of pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks is available to all women who are undergoing any “change in their material circumstances”.
    • The Court said that ‘it is the woman alone who has the right over her body’ and is the ‘ultimate decision-maker’ in deciding if she wants an abortion.

Rights of a Foetus Under Indian Law

  • The rights of a foetus under the Indian Constitution are unclear as there has been no upfront articulation of it.
  • Whether the foetus possesses rights, or simply ‘interests’ (as the 2009 Supreme Court decision termed it) is also ambiguous.
  • A 2016 Bombay High Court decision relied on international human rights law to hold that the foetus does not have rights till birth.
  • Hence, there is an urgent need to articulate the rights of a foetus under the Indian Laws.

News Summary

  • The Supreme Court on May 15 refused to entertain a plea of a 20-year-old unmarried woman seeking termination of her over 27-week pregnancy.
  • A bench headed by Justice B R Gavai passed the order while hearing the woman's plea challenging the Delhi High Court's May 3 order refusing to allow termination of her pregnancy.

Key Observations Made by the Court

  • The Supreme Court said that the pregnancy was in excess of seven months now and asked “what about the right of the child to survive? How do you address that?”.
  • The petitioner argued that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act primarily laid stress on the rights of the mother and that she is in a very delicate state.
    • Under the MTP Act, termination of pregnancy of a duration exceeding 24 weeks can be allowed only in case of substantial foetal abnormality as diagnosed by a medical board.
  • The Delhi High Court had set up a panel of doctors of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to look into the matter.
  • The panel said that there is no congenital abnormality in the foetus nor is there any danger to the mother to carry on with the pregnancy which will mandate termination of the foetus.

The Supreme Court bench said the duration of pregnancy is over seven months now.


Q1. What does the Placenta do?

The placenta is an organ that forms in the womb, also called the uterus, during pregnancy. The placenta is connected to a developing baby by a tubelike structure called the umbilical cord. Through the umbilical cord, the placenta provides oxygen and nutrients to a developing baby. It also removes waste from the baby's blood.

Q2. What is a Mitochondria?

Mitochondria are membrane-bound cell organelles (mitochondrion, singular) that generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell's biochemical reactions. Chemical energy produced by the mitochondria is stored in a small molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

Source: Supreme Court rejects plea for termination of over 27-week pregnancy | SCObserver