Medical termination of pregnancy, commonly known as abortion has been prevalent and mostly all women undergo abortion at some point or the other in their lives. In our society and around our surroundings, abortion is such a common phenomena, that it leads us to think it is legal. However, such perception is wrong. The law provides for certain circumstances under which pregnancy can be medically terminated. It is therefore, important for us to understand what are those circumstances when abortion is allowed and its exceptions. 

Circumstances under which abortion is allowed

Abortion is allowed under the following circumstances: 

  1. Where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks and if the medical practitioner is of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to physical or mental health; or there is a substantial risk that if a child is born out of the pregnancy, such child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which render him/ her seriously handicapped.
  2. Where the length of the pregnancy ranges between twelve weeks to twenty weeks and two or more than two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to physical or mental health ; or there is a substantial risk that the child born out of the pregnancy would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities which render him/her to be seriously handicapped.

Abortion when pregnancy length exceeds twenty weeks

This leads us to question the law on termination of pregnancy of those women whose pregnancy length is more than twenty weeks. Are they not allowed to terminate their pregnancy? 

The law provides for an exceptional circumstance for those women which is as follows:

If the medical practitioner is of the opinion that the termination of pregnancy of a women who is pregnant for more than twenty weeks is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, then such pregnancy can be terminated by the concerned medical practitioner, without taking opinion of more than two medical practitioners. In such an emergency case, it is not mandatory that the termination takes place in a place as prescribed by law i.e. a hospital established or maintained by government etc. and the pregnancy can be terminated at any place by a medical practitioner. 

Grave injury to mental health – interpretation

Now that we have covered the circumstances under which abortion is permitted, we move on to interpretation issues. 

As you must have noticed, grave injury to mental or physical health is very subjective in nature and differs from person to person. The law, therefore, provides that pregnant woman’s actual or reasonable foreseeable environment may be taken into account while determining the same. 

As per law, the following are some circumstances which can be said to cause grave injury to mental health of the pregnant women: 

  1. Where any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by such pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.
  2. Where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children, the anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.

Abortion for an unmarried woman

It must be noted that the aforesaid circumstance no. 2 is not applicable to unmarried single women. A single woman cannot get their foetus aborted if the pregnancy occurs as a result of unprotected sex. As per law if a married woman gets pregnant as a result of failure of any device or method used for the purpose of limiting the number of children, then she can get her foetus aborted. 

An unmarried single woman, therefore, can get her foetus aborted if the medical practitioner (if the length of the pregnancy is less than twelve weeks) or two medical practitioners (if the length of the pregnancy ranges between twelve to twenty weeks) are of the opinion that there is a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to physical health or mental health (including pregnancy caused by rape); or there is a substantial risk that if a child is born out of the pregnancy, such child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which render him/ her seriously handicapped.

Consent is mandatory

If pregnancy is terminated under the circumstances as provided by law, it is important to take the consent of the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated. If the pregnant women is a minor, then the consent of her guardian has to be taken. 

Place of abortion

Pregnancy can be terminated in any hospital established or maintained by the government or any place the central government approves except for an emergency situation for terminating  pregnancy of a women whose life is at risk, as explained earlier in this article. 

Note: This Article provides an outline of the law. If you have specific queries or questions, please feel free to DM on instagram or email us on billablesbeyond@gmail.com