UPSC PRELIMS 2019: Decriminalising Abortion

Decriminalising Abortion

Topic : Decriminalising Abortion

Topic in Syllabus: Indian Society


Context :

Decriminalising Abortion

The Supreme Court on Monday admitted a writ petition seeking to decriminalise abortion and allowing women the right to exercise their reproductive choice.


About the Current Provisions regarding Abortion

  • Abortion is allowed if pregnancy is under 20 weeks. However, it is subject to several conditions and ability to get an abortion will depend on the opinion of the doctor.
  • The law requires the doctor to assess if these conditions are fulfilled – only then are they legally allowed to perform an abortion. Conducting an abortion without fulfilling the conditions is considered a crime.
  • Under the law (section 3 of The medical termination of pregnancy Act 1971), the doctor can perform an abortion in the following situations:
    • if the pregnancy would be harmful to your life or physical or mental health. The doctor will need to consider your circumstances to figure out if the pregnancy will harm your mental health. They also need to look at your future (as a reasonable person would) to figure out the effects of the pregnancy.
    • if there is good chance that the child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which would leave him or her seriously handicapped.
  • If the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks (first trimester), only one doctor needs to be satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled.
  • If the pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks and is below 20 weeks (first trimester), two doctors need to be satisfied that the conditions have been fulfilled.
  • The gestation period does not matter if doctor feels that an immediate abortion must be conducted to save your life.
  • The doctor who determines if it is necessary to perform an abortion and performs it needs to be a ‘registered medical practitioner’ under the law.
  • For a married person, abortion is allowed if contraceptives did not work or the person did not want to have more children. The doctor has a legal duty to assume in such cases that the pregnancy affects your mental health gravely. The same legal duty does not unfortunately apply to unmarried women. Unmarried women can only abort if the doctor forms an opinion that your mental health will suffer if the pregnancy continues


Details of the writ petition

  • The petition said abortion, as per the 1971 Act, is not permissible after 20 weeks of pregnancy. This is excessive and harsh.
  • The right to exercise reproductive choice is the right to choose whether to conceive and carry pregnancy to its full term or to terminate is it at the core of one’s privacy, dignity, personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self determination and right to health recognised by Article 21 of the Constitution
  • The petition points out that the law adversely affects the sexual autonomy of single women. While it protects married woman by allowing them to terminate an “unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, the same is not extended to single women”. “There is no rationale for not affording the same protection to an unmarried woman. On the contrary an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy will invariably in the case of an unmarried woman ensue more grave consequences. The provision treats equals unequally
  • The petition pointed out how the Act does not allow abortion of pregnancy in the case of minors or mentally ill persons without the consent of the guardian.


Sample Question:

Abortion stick used in criminal abortion causes abortion by the mechanism of
a) Uterine contraction
b) Stimulation of uterine nerves
c) Uterine infection & necrosis
d) Placental separation


Correct answer : a) Uterine contraction