Supreme Court says all women are entitled to safe abortions even as unsafe terminations prevail

In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 50-year-old Roe v Wade judgment, making abortion a federal issue, and leading to widespread abortion curbs all over the country. On the other end, in a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court of India on September 29 announced that a woman’s marital status could not be grounds to deny her the right to abortion. The apex court stated that all women are entitled to safe and legal abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

India Today’s Data Intelligence Unit analysed what the data and trends on abortion in India show. As per the National Family Health Survey-5, released earlier this year, nearly three per cent of all pregnancies in the country resulted in abortion. The number of abortions in urban centres was higher than in rural areas.

The reasons

As per the report, almost every second woman (48 per cent) who sought an abortion, terminated an unplanned pregnancy. The other reasons for terminating pregnancies included health factors (11.3 per cent), the last child being too young (9.7 per cent), and complications in pregnancies (9.1 per cent). Interestingly, 4.1 per cent of women shared the non-willingness of a husband or mother-in-law as one of the reasons for seeking termination.

Aside from that, 2.1 per cent of women also cited a female foetus as a cause. This is despite India banning prenatal sex-determination testing in the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act 1994. The ratio is highest in states like Goa (7.3 per cent), followed by Bihar (5.3 per cent), Jharkhand (4.9 per cent), and Punjab (4.2 per cent).

Similarly, 3.4 per cent of women chose to abort for economic reasons. States like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal are among the top states where most women end their pregnancies because of financial reasons.

Safety — or the lack thereof

According to the United Nations Population Fund’s State of the World Population Report 2022, unsafe abortions are the third leading cause of maternal mortality in India, and close to eight women die from causes related to unsafe abortions each day. The report said that between 2007-2011, 67 per cent of abortions in India were classified as unsafe.

And there’s a reason for that. Not all Indian women visit doctors to terminate pregnancies. Many women in India perform abortions at home without medical supervision. Shockingly, nearly 27 per cent of women in India performed their abortions themselves. While this number was 21.6 per cent for pregnant urban women, the proportion was 30 per cent among rural women.

NFHS-5’s data also revealed that there was a positive correlation between abortions and level of education and wealth. More educated women opted for terminating pregnancies compared to women with little or no schooling or those belonging to the lowest wealth quintile.

State trends

In 19 states and union territories, the proportion of women opting for abortion was higher than the national average of 2.9 per cent. This included states like Manipur, Tripura, Goa, and Odisha. Even in the national capital, 5.7 per cent of women chose to abort their pregnancy. The ratio is low in states like Rajasthan (1.5 per cent) and Madhya Pradesh (1.3 per cent).

(With inputs from Kshitiz Arora)

— ENDS —

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