When it comes to news about abortion in India, it feels like I’m constantly anxious, distrustful and expecting the worst. I take heart from the fact that the Supreme Court (SC) has lately been proving itself to be an ally for women’s health with its progressive stances on abortion. For example, in October this year, it dismissed a civil appeal that sought to “recognise husband’s consent to terminate a pregnancy”. The court basically recognised a woman’s autonomy over her own body – no husband telling you ‘what you can do with your body’ business.
In June this year, the SC allowed a woman to terminate her 26-week-old foetus. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, termination of foetuses after 20 weeks is illegal in India.
But however reassuring the SC’s decisions may be, the ground reality of cases about abortions in India is far from reassuring. According to news reports, 56% of abortions in India are unsafe, despite abortion being legal in India. The report also states that 8.5% of all maternal deaths in India are due to unsafe abortions which leads to the death of 10 women every day.
There are many factors at play that prevent safer abortions. Bureaucratically, it’s committees like the one in Maharashtra that wanted to restrict women’s access to abortions in July this year. Multiple sociological obstacles prevent women from gaining access to safe abortions. Also, female foeticide, which often manifests in forced and dangerous abortion procedures, continues to harm women’s health in India.
Most importantly, the petition to the SC to increase the permissible restriction for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks has been in limbo for years. Increasing the limit can give women access to safer abortions. Many cases, like the one where a rape victim in Mumbai was allowed to abort her 34-week-old foetus in September this year, will stand a chance to gain access to better medical help. But it’s not just rape victims who stand to gain if the petition is accepted. We’re tired of yelling hoarse about how it could benefit women across classes in India.
Meanwhile, women can avail safe abortions options by consulting a good gynaecologist. Here’s a crowd sourced list that can help women find a non-judgemental gynaecologist. There’s also an extremely helpful map for women created by feminist human rights organisation CREA and Hidden Pockets, that one can use to find places in Chandigarh and New Delhi that offer safe abortions. In any case, I’m willing to try anything to not see statistics like 56% unsafe abortions in my newsfeed.
(An earlier version of this article stated that the map to finding safe abortion places in Delhi and Chandigarh was created by Hidden Pockets. We’ve now made an addition to include CREA as a co-creator of the map.)