It is estimated that 15.6 million abortions take place in India every year. A significant number of these abortions are done under highly unsafe conditions. Unsafe abortion leads to the death of 13 women in India each day. It is the third-largest cause of maternal mortality in India.

According to statistics from various reports published on the WHO website:

  • Between 2015 and 2019, on average, 73.3 million induced (safe and unsafe) abortions occurred worldwide each year.
  • There were 39 induced abortions per 1000 women aged between 15–49 years.
  • 3 out of 10 (29%) of all pregnancies, and 6 out of 10 (61%) of all unintended pregnancies, ended in induced abortion.
  • Around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals every year in developing countries due to unsafe abortion.

What is an unsafe abortion?

When abortion is carried out by a person who lacks the necessary skills or does not meet the minimal medical standards required to perform an abortion, it is considered to be unsafe. Any form of abortion, which is not appropriate to the duration of pregnancy, or poses a threat to the life of the mother is unsafe abortion. Abortion is considered to be dangerous if:

  • The procedure is carried out with outdated methods.
  • The provider does not complete knowledge of the medicines used to terminate the pregnancy.
  • Any untrained person uses dangerous methods such as conventional concoctions and inserting foreign bodies.

Unsafe abortion is strongly associated with maternal complications such as hemorrhage, sepsis, and trauma and is the fourth leading cause of maternal death in India. Women in India often settle for unqualified providers to abort their babies, despite abortion being made legal in the country through the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

Only 20 percent of Bihar and Jharkhand residents are aware that abortion in India is legal, whereas the awareness for the same is only about 12 percent in Madhya Pradesh. 

Why is the rate of unsafe abortion so high in India?

Indians have a very dim attitude and knowledge about reproductive health and sexual wellbeing. Lakhs of women get pregnant every year due to a lack of contraceptives, forced marital sex, or sexual assault. Unwanted pregnancy is what forces women in India to approach unsafe abortion.

Another reason that contributes to unsafe abortions in India is the stigma associated with the pregnancy of unmarried women. Many healthcare providers refuse to perform an abortion with the woman’s consent alone; they demand parents to be present and approve of the abortion. The fear forces many young women to keep the pregnancy clandestine and settle for unsafe abortion.

As reported by India Today, 80-90 percent of all abortions are done during the first trimester; sex-selective abortions largely take place in the second trimester.

Things are complicated in rural India. Most women are not educated or informed about the signs of pregnancy, the legal aspects of abortions, or the safe approach to abortion.

There’s a cultural preference for male babies in India. As reported by New Indian Express, India is likely to witness an estimated 6.8 million fewer births of girl children by 2030 due to abortions based on sex selections. In June 2019, 947 children were born across 500 villages in Uttarakhand state’s Uttarkashi district. Among the 200 such births in 132 of the villages, none was a female child.

If data surfacing on the internet is to be believed, approximately 10 million female fetuses have been illegally aborted in India since the 1990s. An estimated 1,00,000 abortions (most of which are illegal and unsafe) take place in India every year because the fetus is female.

Although the Medical Termination Act, 1971 has given legal approval to medical termination of pregnancy, there are several barriers the prevent Indian women to access safe abortion services. The stereotypical outlook towards abortion and getting pregnant with a female child is to blame here.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy – What Indian Women Should Know?

  1. Abortion can be performed only under the following conditions:
  • If the pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or contraceptive failure.
  • If the fetus has abnormalities.
  • If continuation of the pregnancy poses threat to the physical and mental health of the mother and the baby.
  1. If you are an adult, you do not require the consent of any second person for abortion. In the case of married or unmarried women where pregnancy cannot be continued, she does not need the consent of any other person for the abortion. However, if the woman is below 18 years, consent of parents is needed.
  2.  Abortion on the ground of sex selection is punishable under the law of the country. Anyone practicing sex-selective abortion, including the doctor who performs or the parents who seek, shall be punished with long-term imprisonment.
  3. Abortion should be performed only at a licensed clinic or hospital by a certified medical practitioner. Anyone other than this can call a threat to your as well as the baby’s life.

Though Indian law has permitted medical termination of pregnancy, the number of unsafe abortions does not seem to be going down in the country. The prevalence of unsafe and illegal abortions throughout the nation brutally exposes the ambiguity around abortion and the downsides of unsafe abortion. As a nation, India has a long way to go; the goal seems too far-fetched and the path to that is not clear.