Access to safe abortion is an essential reproductive right for women. Undergoing a safe abortion for a woman means accessing one’s most basic right to life, health, liberty, equality and dignity. Moreover, it is about the woman’s right to physical autonomy. In India, approximately 10 women die every day due to unsafe abortions. Unsafe abortions take place when doctors, nurses, traditional practitioners and quacks perform abortion in an environment which is not in accordance with the Indian Public Health Standards.
There is a severe lack of availability of medically trained practitioners who perform abortions even in the government hospitals and health centres. This leads women to choose unsafe options for abortion, which can lead to complications to their health or even result in death. Poor women who are unable to afford abortions at private facilities have to bear an unequal brunt of this situation.
Abortions in India are regulated under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) and are legal in specific situations. Minors and mentally ill women can undergo abortion only with the consent of their parents/guardian. The MTP Act specifies that medical termination of pregnancy can only occur up to 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a danger to the woman’s life. Women who discover foetal abnormalities after the 20th week are left with no option but to carry the pregnancy to term, causing them severe mental and physical harm. It prevents a woman from exercising her personal liberty as she does not have the power to make decisions about her body after 20 weeks.
In the year 2009 & 2014 HRLN filed cases where the abnormalities in the foetuses were diagnosed more than 20 weeks into the pregnancy, but they were unable to terminate the pregnancy. In the year 2014 the Government of India proposed amendments to the MTP Act that would extend the legal time limit for abortion. Amendments that mirror our prayers to the Supreme Court include extending the upper time limit on abortion to 24 weeks and excluding time limits all together if any abnormalities are discovered in the foetus.
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