This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Nyaaya. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Understanding The Regulatory Regime Of Abortion In India

More from Nyaaya

MyBodyMyChoice logoEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #MyBodyMyChoice, a campaign by Global Health Strategies and Youth Ki Awaaz to create awareness around access to safe abortion and women's right to reproductive justice. Join the conversation by publishing a story here.

By Adrija Jayanthy:

Across the world, abortion is still a contentious issue. Pro-life and pro-choice debates have serious implications for abortion regulation. The debate on abortion is not as simple as abortion being “legal” and “illegal” in different countries. This debate can affect the degree of recognition of women’s autonomy over their reproductive and health choices in terms of regulation of abortion. In most countries, abortion is regulated in terms of whether it can be done or not, and if yes, when and with what legal requirements. There are criminal consequences for those who violate abortion laws. A study on abortion laws across the world done by the Centre for Reproductive Rights groups countries into four categories in terms of their abortion laws. Category 1 includes countries that prohibit abortion completely unless it is to save the life of the woman. Category 2 countries are countries that allow abortion recognizing a woman’s right to preserve her health. Category 2 is broader than Category 1 as it goes beyond emergency abortions conducted to save the life of the woman and recognize her right to health (mental and physical). Category 3 countries allow abortion on socio-economic grounds. Socio-economic reasons for abortion can be related to the age, economic status, or age of the woman. A woman’s environment is taken into account when establishing a framework for her health and how an abortion can affect it. Category 4 countries allow abortion without restriction as to reason.

India is presently a Category 3 country. Up until 1971, it was absolutely illegal for a pregnant woman in India to abort her child, even if her life was at stake. Then, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (hereinafter “MTPA”) was enacted. This law was designed with the intent to stop sex-selective abortion. It allows abortion of a fetus only under specific circumstances.

Life, Mental, and Physical Health of Women

The law recognizes two parties who may suffer by allowing a pregnancy to continue to term — the mother and the unborn child. There are only two circumstances in which an abortion can be legally allowed. The first is when either the life and health (mental or physical) of the pregnant woman is at stake due to the pregnancy. The second is if the unborn child is going to suffer from any physical or mental abnormalities which will make it handicapped after it is born. To understand whether the health of the woman is going to be affected, the medical practitioners conducting the abortion are supposed to look at the environment she lives in currently and the environment she will likely live in after the abortion. The aim is to understand what sort of social circumstances she will be subject to and the repercussions she will have to face due to her decision to abort, and if it will affect her mental and physical health in any manner.

Pregnancies Without Consent

Indian law recognizes two specific instances in which it is assumed that the woman’s mental health will be affected due to a pregnancy, necessitating an abortion. Many pregnancies occur without the consent of the women — either when the sex was not consensual or when there was no intention of procreating. The law recognizes only two instances when pregnancies without consent require an abortion. The law specifically states that if a woman has been raped, her mental health has been affected. Also, if a married woman and her husband have used contraceptives and the contraception has failed, the resulting pregnancy can be understood as affecting the mental health of the pregnant woman. In these two circumstances, an abortion will be allowed within 20 weeks of the pregnancy.

Unfortunately, this does not apply to unmarried women who have used contraceptives. However, this does not mean that unmarried women cannot get an abortion. If a medical practitioner believes that their mental health will be affected by the continuation of the pregnancy then the abortion will be legally allowed.

Determination of Time Period of Termination

This assessment of whether either the mother or the child to born is going be affected is decided by either one or two medical practitioners. The law requires that if the fetus is less than 12 weeks old, one medical practitioner has to decide if termination is suitable. If the fetus is more than 12 weeks old and less than 20 weeks old, then two medical practitioners have to decide if an abortion can be done legally.

Legal Barriers to Abortion

In the spectrum of regulation of abortion across countries, there are many countries that create legal barriers to abortion. Such barriers sometimes require a woman to get her spouse’s signature or require her to notify an authority. In Indian law, only the consent of the woman is required to conduct the abortion. There are no legal barriers to access abortion. A form (Form C) consenting to the abortion must be signed by the woman, giving her name, age, and permanent address. Whoever causes an abortion without the consent of the woman will be punished with imprisonment for life, or with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine.

It’s important to note that women who are less than 18 years of age can only terminate their pregnancy with the consent of their guardian. Guardians will have to give consent on behalf of a woman suffering from mental illness. As per the MTPA, a mentally ill person is a person who requires medical treatment because of a disorder. This definition is extremely limited in disability jurisprudence.

Medical Barriers

The law requires that all abortions must be conducted by a “registered medical practitioner” who possesses a medical qualification recognized by the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956. This definition is quite restrictive, as it limits the number of qualified practitioners who can perform an abortion. The Central Government has specified the training and experience qualifications of doctors who are legally allowed to conduct abortions. Examples of the qualifications include experience in assisting in as many as 25 medical terminations of pregnancy of less than 12 weeks, and experience and training in gynaecology and obstetrics.

The requirement of experience or training in gynaecology and obstetrics is relaxed in cases where an emergency abortion has to be done to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Restriction of Places of Abortion

To regulate abortions, especially in light of rampant female feticide in the country, the government has restricted the places where an abortion can happen. An abortion can only be done in hospitals specified by law. Termination of a pregnancy cannot take place in private places unless they take approval from the government. Abortion can only happen in a hospital established or maintained by the Government or in a place that is approved by the Government or District level Committee constituted by the Government. Further, a place that wants to qualify under the law to conduct abortions must have specific equipment. The owners must sign a form vouching that they are authorized to conduct an abortion and that they have the legally-required equipment.

Emergency Abortions

Requirements relating to the length of the pregnancy and the opinion the medical practitioners do not always apply. In a case where a registered medical practitioner believes the termination of a pregnancy is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, then an emergency abortion can be done.

Sex-Selective Abortions

The Medical Termination of Pregnancies Act, 1971 does not talk about termination based on sex. Due to the rampant rise in sex-selective abortions after the enactment of this law, the Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 was enacted. Under this law, sex-selection and abortion based on sex is prohibited entirely.

Punishments for Illegal Abortions

The Indian Penal Code punishes any woman who tries to terminate her pregnancy for reasons other than having to save her own life. A woman needs the opinion of medical practitioners to terminate her pregnancy unless it is to save her life in an emergency. The criminal punishment is from three years to seven years jail time, depending on the stage of development of the fetus. This criminalization creates a regime of restricting women’s rights to decide their own reproductive health.

Further, the MTPA has stringent provisions against people terminating pregnancies in places that are not allowed under the law and owners of a place that is not permitted to terminate pregnancies.


A proposed 2014 amendment to this law changed the definition of “registered medical practitioners” to a “healthcare provider”. The term “healthcare provider” is broader in scope and includes people who have recognized medical qualifications in Ayurveda and Homeopathy, as well as nurses and midwives with recognized training. The amendment also allowed for pregnancies to be terminated irrespective of the length of the pregnancy when any fetal abnormalities are detected. However, this Bill was not passed. A proposed 2017 amendment also extended the term of termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.

These amendments have heavy implications for women’s access to timely and safe medical help for in seeking termination of their pregnancies. Further, the proposed amendments for increasing the time period of termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks and to allow for termination irrespective of length of the pregnancy when any fetal abnormalities exist are both to ensure that correct diagnosis of the health of the fetus before termination is allowed.


The Indian legal framework for abortion goes only so far as to allow abortion in exceptional circumstances. It is also limited in terms of its framework for allowing immediate and safe medical care for women who need to terminate their pregnancies. Amendments to broaden the scope of access to safeguard the women’s and child’s health would largely improve their situation.

You must be to comment.

More from Nyaaya

Similar Posts

By Annonymous


By Sonal Jain

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below