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 An accidental pregnancy can happen to anyone. And anyone in such a situation deserves support, not stigma.

In the absence of comprehensive sex education, information about safer sex practices, and still-looming barriers to accessing contraception—social taboos, affordability, availability—as well as the fact that contraceptive failure can and does occur, and that sexual decision-making is not as simple and straightforward a process as we’d like to imagine, unplanned pregnancy is, in fact, extremely common.

Even though millions of abortions take place around the world and in India each year, it remains something that’s shrouded in shame and misinformation. And that needs to change.

Is abortion legal in India?

Abortion is legal in India. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act or MTP Act of 1971, abortion is legal in India up to twenty weeks into a pregnancy. This Act was amended in 2021 to increase the upper gestation limit for certain ‘vulnerable categories’ including survivors of rape, minors and people with disabilities, to up to twenty-four weeks into a pregnancy.

The law states that an abortion can be obtained in any of the following scenarios:

1) The pregnancy poses a threat to the life of the pregnant person

2) The pregnancy poses a threat to the physical or mental health of the pregnant person

3) if there are foetal abnormalities present

4) in cases of contraceptive failure

So, in theory, anyone seeking to terminate their pregnancy should be able to legally obtain a safe abortion in India.

However, it remains at the behest of doctors, rather than solely at the request of the pregnant person.

Up to twenty weeks into a pregnancy, the law requires a person to have the authorization of one medical provider in order to obtain an abortion. Between twenty and twenty-four weeks, however, the authorization of two medical providers is required.

If the pregnancy poses a risk to the pregnant person’s life, the upper gestation limit does not apply, and an abortion can be done at any stage in the pregnancy.

In cases where there are foetal abnormalities, the upper gestation limit also does not apply; however, the authorization of a medical board is required.

Can you get an abortion if you are not married?

You do not have to be married to obtain an abortion in India. Moreover, according to the law, a person who is eighteen years or older and sound of mind does not need the permission of their parents, spouse or anyone other than their doctors to get an abortion. They can also be assured that their identity will be kept confidential.

Can you get an abortion if you are under the age of eighteen?

This is a more complicated question. In India, the legal ‘age of consent’ for sex is 18— which effectively criminalizes all sex by people under the age of eighteen, even if it is consensual.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which is intended to protect children and young people from sexual abuse, is an important and valuable Act. However, it does not currently differentiate between consensual sexual activity between teenagers similar in age, and non-consensual sexual activity, or sexual activity between an adult and a minor. So, even though licensed medical practitioners can perform an abortion for a person under eighteen years of age, they are legally required to file a police report even if the sex was consensual.

We need to advocate for a solution to this so that young people who may need it can access safe abortion without involving the police—because, let’s be honest, this law isn’t going to make teenagers stop having sex. It’s only going to force them to opt for unsafe abortions outside of the healthcare system.

Are abortions painful?

This depends on what procedure is opted for, and what stage of the pregnancy the person is in.

Medical abortions with pills, which can be done in the early stages of a pregnancy, can be painful, as when the uterus expels the pregnancy, one might experience pain similar to severe period cramps. But doctors also provide pain-management and pain-relief solutions.

Surgical abortion procedures, typically done if the pregnancy is in a later stage, are done with anaesthesia.

How common is abortion?

Abortion is much more common than you probably think. It is estimated by the Guttmacher Institute that has the most credible studies on the subject, that at least 56 million abortions take place across the world annually, and at least 15.6 million abortions take place in India each year.

Simply going by the statistics, abortion is so common, in fact, that it is highly likely that someone both in your family and in my family has already had an abortion. So if you are someone going through this, know that you are not alone.

Why is it important that we support the right to choose?

Even today, abortion in India is not considered a human right and people continue to face challenges while accessing safe abortion services.

According to the MTP Act, abortion needs the opinion and approval of a medical practitioner. A person cannot get an abortion solely on their request. This is reflective of the prevalent socio-cultural and legal perception that a woman cannot and should not control her own reproductive choices.

These attitudes sometimes extend even to providers, who often ask for spousal or family consent before providing an abortion though it is not a legal requirement. Biases such as these further prevent people from accessing safe abortion.

Denying people access to safe abortion is not going to magically stop unwanted pregnancies. It only stands to jeopardize the health and lives of millions of people around the world by forcing them to seek potentially dangerous solutions outside of the healthcare system. Unsafe abortion is still among the leading causes of maternal death in our country.

On a fundamental level, every human being deserves sexual and bodily autonomy—we deserve the right to make our own choices about our own bodies. If we have any value for our own agency and bodily autonomy, access to safe abortion is a right we should all be advocating for globally.

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