India poised to expand women’s access to safe, legal abortion

Monday, November 10, 2014

Woman on path

More women in India may soon be able to access safe, legal abortion services if a proposed amendment to the country’s Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act becomes law.

The government of India is currently reviewing an amendment that would make first-trimester abortion available upon a woman’s request; currently a woman’s health-care provider must determine if she is eligible. The proposed amendment would also expand the base of legal abortion providers to include non-allopathic providers, nurses and nurse midwives—eliminating the current “physician only” practice. Both provisions in the amendment translate into increased access to safe services for women, particularly in remote areas where there are few doctors. 

In a country where a woman dies from unsafe abortion every two hours, these changes could have a broad impact.

“This proposed amendment makes significant progress for women’s rights and autonomy and constitutes the largest advancement to strengthen women’s right to control their own bodies and health since abortion was liberalized in India in 1971,” said Ipas India Executive Director Vinoj Manning.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed the amendment as part of its efforts to reduce maternal mortality and meet its objectives under the Millennium Development Goals. While abortion has been legal in India for more than forty years, many women still seek unsafe, clandestine abortions for various reasons. Many people don’t know abortion is legal, or they don’t know where or how to access safe services. In rural India, many health clinics lack trained providers who can legally provide the service.

“Unsafe abortion is the third largest cause of maternal death in India, and the provisions of this amendment will definitely help save women’s lives,” Manning said.

Another provision of the amendment would increase the upper gestational limit for legal abortion services under certain circumstances, such as severe fetal abnormality, and for women who are survivors of rape or incest.

“We truly welcome the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s proposed amendment to the Act,” Manning says.

The Ministry concluded a period of public comment on the proposed amendment on Nov. 10 and is expected to examine the comments received before taking it forward.