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India’s abortion law puts women at risk

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 25 June 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h3294
  1. Nikhil Datar, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, Cloudnine Hospitals and Lifewave Hospital, Mumbai, India

A legal amendment that should bring clarity to the arbitrary cut-off of 20 weeks’ gestation for abortion needs urgent redrafting, writes Nikhil Datar

“Why does the law not allow me to terminate this pregnancy?” a woman asked me in my clinic. She was 22 weeks pregnant, and ultrasonography had shown that the fetus had anencephaly. It was another frustrating moment for me. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, India’s abortion law, allows termination of pregnancy until only 20 weeks’ gestation. But international organisations working on ethics and reproductive rights strongly support women’s right to terminate their fetuses irrespective of gestational age if they are diagnosed as having severe abnormalities.1

The act was passed in 1971, thus legalising abortion in India. The Indian Penal Code made causing miscarriage or harm to an unborn fetus a criminal offence, but the act outlined a few exceptions and allowed medical practitioners to perform abortions under strict conditions.

Section three of the act allows termination of pregnancy by a doctor when the life of a pregnant woman is at immediate …

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