The Union Health Ministry has proposed to allow single women to opt for abortion in cases of unplanned pregnancies, a move aimed to increase their access to safe abortion and allow them to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights.
‘The Amendment to the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act will also extend the time frame for the termination of pregnancy to 24 weeks, while setting no time limit for the termination of a fetus with serious genetic defects.’
The law allows abortion only in cases of married women and the Government's approval will broaden the purview of legal abortion.
The new proposal will stand in support of not just victims of rape and incest, but will also cover single women and ensure equal rights to women.
At present, over 7 million abortions are conducted a year in the country. Experts say the move is progressive and will give women safe and legal abortion options and the proposal is likely to be taken up by the Union Cabinet after the current Parliament session ends.
The proposed amendments also include extending the gestation period from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for "special categories", which is also likely to include single women with unwanted pregnancy, apart from disabled and other vulnerable women.
Ranjana Kumari, activist for the rights of women said, "All along the most important thing we have been saying is that a woman has a right on her body. It is her basic fundamental right. Whether she wants to have a baby or not it's her choice. We appreciate the progressive decision of the Health Ministry."
Various researches reveal that in India, 8 percent of the total maternal deaths are caused by unsafe abortions. These deaths can be averted with simple community intervention and minimal resource utilisation.
Dr AL Sharada, Director, Population First said, "Unsafe abortions have reached such epic proportions in the country that it was imperative to promote safe abortion services as a right of every woman, married or unmarried. Thousands of lives of women can be saved every year by ensuring the availability of abortion services as well as allocation of resources by the Government."
Experts say that in the absence of law on their side, in case of unwanted pregnancies single women look towards unsafe methods of abortion such as taking pills or visiting quacks.
Dr. Archana Dhawan Bajaj, Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, IVF and Fertility Expert, Nurture Clinic said, "A non-sterile abortion done by a quack often puts them at risk of infertility and worse still death! This in turn intensifies the number of deaths through abortions that occur when women with such unwanted pregnancies resort to unsafe abortion practices. The situation is much worse in rural India where unmarried women have to adopt unsafe ways to terminate a fetus."
"The common causes of death from unsafe abortion are hemorrhage, infection, sepsis, genital trauma, and necrotic bowel. As per estimated figures it account for 12 percent of all maternal deaths," she added.