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New campaign seeks to clarify India's abortion law

Wednesday 19 December 2018 Marie Stopes International Safe abortion and post abortion care, Policy and advocacy India

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FRHS India, one of Marie Stopes International’s two programmes in the country, is championing a new campaign calling on India’s Ministry of Health to clarify that women do not need a court order before they can seek a safe abortion.

The campaign, a joint initiative of  the Centre for Reproductive Rights and the Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion, has been launched in response to the growing misconception within India that abortion is illegal unless it has been approved in advance by a court. An online petition calls on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to clarify that a legal approval  is not required, and to issue new guidance to help providers determine when a woman qualifies for care.

India has a liberal abortion law which permits women to access abortion services up to 20 weeks. For nearly 50 years, the 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act permits safe and legal abortion to protect a woman’s physical or mental health, as well as in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.

However, in recent years a number of highly-publicised court cases have created confusion among providers about the legal status of abortion, with increasing numbers of women wrongly being told they must obtain permission from a judge in order to proceed. In the most extreme cases, this unnecessary legal hurdle has resulted in girls as young as 10 being forced to continue with a pregnancy, despite the significant risk this poses to their health and wellbeing.

The misinterpretation of the law has also increased stigma for women seeking abortion, and the healthcare providers who offer it.

V.S. Chandrashekar, CEO of FRHS India, said: “The current system is jeopardising the survival and well-being of women and girls who are denied termination of pregnancy by court appointed medical boards, who fail to properly consider the risks to women’s health and lives. Requiring judicial authorisation for access to vital reproductive healthcare is a clear violation of women’s rights, which are protected within Indian law.”

For more information on the campaign, and to sign the petition, please click here.

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