In India, 10 women die each day as a result of unsafe abortion. While abortion has been legal in the country since the 1971 passage of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, much has changed since then in terms of societal shifts and the advancement of abortion technology. For 10 years, Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) and other stakeholders have been working with the Indian government, advocating for amending the MTP Act to allow women greater autonomy and access to services. On March 17, the lower house of India’s parliament approved amendments to the law.
“The amendments have the potential to address the challenges that women face when accessing later gestation abortion services,” says IDF Chief Executive Officer Vinoj Manning. He adds that they respond to several court cases in the past few years of rape survivors and women with fetal abnormalities seeking permission to end pregnancies after the 20-week cut-off. But, he says, the amendments “fall short of fulfilling the original intent of the draft MTP Amendment Bill in 2014.”
What do the new amendments mean?
- Single women can seek safe abortion services on the grounds of contraceptive failure;
- Rape survivors, victims of incest and differently abled women and girls can seek abortions up to 24 weeks’ gestation;
- Women can seek abortions at any time during a pregnancy in cases of substantial fetal abnormalities (after diagnosis by a medical board);
- The opinion of only one abortion provider is required for abortions up to 20 weeks;
- The personal details of women undergoing abortions will be confidential.
Reproductive rights advocates had hoped to expand the provider base to help address the huge unmet need for providers, particularly in rural areas. They had also hoped to remove the requirement for a provider to give an opinion for abortions up to 12 weeks’ gestation. And the fact that the new amendment requires medical boards to approve later terminations of pregnancies in cases of fetal abnormalities legitimizes third-party authorization and creates additional barriers and delays for women.
“IDF will work with the government and other stakeholders in translating the legal changes into high-quality health system practices,” says Manning. “This will include development of service delivery guidelines beyond the current 20-week period, simplified treatment protocols, provider training in later terminations. and most of all, an awareness-building campaign for women on the benefits of the new law and ways in which they can exercise their legal rights.”
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