Introduction – What is abortion ?

Abortion generally speaking is nothing but the termination of pregnancy before the matured and natured time of child’s birth. It is also called as miscarriage of pregnancy. According to Black’s Concise English Dictionary, abortion is, “the act of miscarriage of producing young before the natural time or before the fetus is perfectly formed. It is also an untimely birth or an unsuccessful pregnancy.”

In the present context, the term ‘abortion’ has been used in order to indicate a definite and known attempt to break the pregnancy and bring about miscarriage so that child is not born after the passage of nine months of the time for its birth. Generally, abortion is of two types-(a) natural or spontaneous, and (b) induced or artificial. Spontaneous or natural abortion takes place due to injury, ill health, shock etc., suffered by the expectant mother.

Induced abortion is termination of pregnancy through artificial means. Generally it is brought about by medical practitioners, or those holding licence for the same. Sometimes medicines help to bring it about.

Indian concept about pregnancy and child’s birth

One f the objects or the aims of life is Kam, the other three being Dharmarth and Moksha. Kam in nothing but the physical relationship between man and woman. According to Indian philosophy, such a relationship is carried out with the object of procreation. Indian thinkers do not allow intercourse for the sake of pleasure. They hold the view that it should be done for carrying forward the progeny. That is why breaking of pregnancy or destruction of the child in the womb is considered to be a great sin. Codifiers of Hindu law have prescribed very severe penalty for breaking of pregnancy or destruction of child in the womb.

Modern concept about pregnancy

With the development of science and technology, the whole of human thinking has under gone a metamorphosis. Many of the concepts that were considered to be sacred are no more so. Concept about pregnancy is a case in example. Now breaking of pregnancy is not considered to be punish able or a criminal act. The change in the outlook has taken place because of socio-economic condition and the change in the values of life. Today, it is not possible for parents to feed and look after children. On the other hand, due to medical facilities and other matters, the infantile mortality has practically vanished and so there is great need for solving the problem of the growing population. Breaking of pregnancy has been considered to be one of the ways for solving this problem.

Like the world opinion. Indian opinion has also changed in regard to sanctity of pregnancy. Now breaking of pregnancy is not considered to be sinful or punishable. Hundreds and thousands of women as well as men brought it about in a secret and clandestine manner. Therefore, what has happened in the form of law is perfectly justified. It has only legalized what they have done in an illegal but was a reality.

Family planning and abortion

Family planning has become the order of the day for many of the Asian as well as European countries. Scandinavian countries may require more children but this is not so in regard to India, China and to some extent England. These countries have to encourage their citizens to plan their families so that they can provide the future generation with the requisite necessities. Family planning aims at control of birth rate. This can be done by several methods. Several medical as well as artificial devices I have been invented for checking the pregnancy or fertility of the woman. But in spite of all these, devices fail and pregnancy takes place. This pregnancy may not be in the interest of the family or the society and so a method to break that pregnancy had been found out.

Abortion was considered to be legal in many European as well as Asian countries. Leaders of the public opinion in India also realised that it should be legalized over here. Whether we like it or not, it was being done in a secret manner in this country. Since it was done in a secret manner, and in disregard to age old values, it had an adverse effect on the psychology of the women who had to undergo this process. Bracking of pregnancy have an injurious effect on the mental health of the women. But once it has been legalized, it is quite possible that the injurious effect may be minimized and the object of controlling the birth rate may also be met.

Legalization of abortion in India

The Indian Parliament passed an Act called ‘The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1979. The termination of pregnancy has been legalized. This law has imposed certain restrictions but these are meant only to check the misuse of the provision of the Act. The law has provided for the following precautions :

(a) No pregnancy of a woman, who has not attained the age of 18 years, or who having attained the age of 18 years is a lunatic, shall be terminated except with the written consent of her guardian.

(b) Pregnancy can be terminated only if it has not exceeded 12 weeks.

(c) It can be terminated only by a medical practitioner, if the pregnancy has not exceeded 12 weeks.

(d) In case the pregnancy has exceeded 12 weeks, but has not exceeded 20 weeks, two registered medical practitioners may terminated the pregnancy if they are of the opinion in good faith that the discontinuance of the pregnancy would not involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health or there is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.

Termination of pregnancy in the interest of mental health

The law that has legalized termination of pregnancy, has allowed it in the interest of mental health. It is presumed that if the pregnancy is caused by rape or failure of some device intended at checking pregnancy, it could have an adverse effect on the mental health of the woman. In order to save the woman from such a situation, abortion law has been prescribed.

Attempt to save life and physical health

One of the important provisions of the law is that registered medical practitioners can terminate the pregnancy only if they are convinced that its continuance shall have an adverse effect on the physical health or life of the pregnant woman.

Amendment to the Indian Penal Code

Section 318 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 had laid down, Whosoever voluntarily causes the women a child to miscarriage and if such miscarriage is not expected in good faith for the purpose of saving the life of woman, shall be punished with imprisonment for either description for a term which may extend to three years or with a fine, or with both; and if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with the imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to 7 years and shall also be liable to fine.”

Section 314 of the Indian Penal Code lays down, “If the offence of causing miscarriage is done without the consent of the woman then the maximum punishment provided is life imprisonment.”

Change of concept and change of law

As the movement of family planning gathered momentum and when it was realised that. the termination of pregnancy which was also being done in an illegal and secret manner, is in the interest of the mental and physical health of the women the Government of India in 1964 appointed a Committee under the Chairmanship of Shri Shanti Lal Shah. The Committee in its report supported the termination of pregnancy. No doubt, the report laid down certain precautions before the termination of pregnancy. These precautions were suggested in the interest of the mental health of the pregnant woman and preservation of social values. After considering the contents of the report, an Act called ‘Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971’ was enacted. This has set at rest the agitation for legalizing abortion. In fact, the Termination of Pregnancy Act is nothing but a concrete step to legalize the termination of pregnancy.

Merits and demerits

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 as passed by the Parliament has been subjected to a good deal of criticism. Most of the persons who have criticized it, are protagonists of status quo. They are conservative and do not believe in changing the values of life. Some religious persons have also criticism on basis of their own concept of religion. Al though most of the criticisms are unjustified but certainly there is truth in the plea that the provisions of this Act can be misused. This is true for almost all the Acts.

The law may be liberal but it has certainly put an end to the practice of illegal abortion that was going on and causing an ad verse effect on the mental health of the women whose pregnancy was terminated. This law shall, to a great extent, save the mental health and also to a very great extent, the physical health of the woman whose pregnancy is terminated. Law has provided for a good deal of precautions and restrictions. If they are observed faith fully the purpose shall be served. The basic purpose of the abortion law is to regulate population and save mental and the physical health of the woman without any injury to social values.

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