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France Enshrines Abortion Rights in Constitution


Recently, French lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France’s constitution, making it the only country to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy. The approved bill amends Article 34 of the French Constitution, explicitly stating that “the law determines the conditions by which the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed.” This historic decision reflects France’s commitment to women’s reproductive rights and ensures legal protection for the freedom to choose abortion.


GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Abortion
  2. Abortion law in India
  3. Concerns related to abortion include

Understanding Abortion

  • Abortion refers to the intentional termination of a pregnancy, usually within the first 28 weeks of gestation. The method used may vary depending on factors such as gestational age and individual preferences.
  • The subject of abortion is highly contentious, often sparking debates involving ethical, moral, religious, and legal considerations.
Arguments in Favor of Abortion
  • Proponents of abortion rights advocate for it as a fundamental reproductive right, enabling individuals to make decisions regarding their bodies, health, and future.
  • They stress the importance of ensuring access to safe and legal abortion services to prevent unwanted pregnancies, safeguard women’s health, and uphold reproductive autonomy.
Arguments Against Abortion
  • Opponents of abortion, commonly known as “pro-life,” oppose it on moral grounds, contending that it is morally reprehensible and should be either restricted or entirely prohibited.
  • They assert that life begins at conception and view abortion as akin to ending a human life, thus violating the rights of the unborn fetus.

Abortion law in India

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 provides the legal framework for making CAC services available in India.
  • Termination of pregnancy is permitted for a broad range of conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation as detailed below:
    • When continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;
    • When there is substantial risk that the child, if born, would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities;
    • When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
    • When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (presumed to constitute grave injury to mental health of the woman).

The MTP Act specifies

  • who can terminate a pregnancy;
  • till when a pregnancy can be terminated; and
  • where can a pregnancy be terminated.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Act, 2021
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy by a medical practitioner in two stages.
  • After a crucial amendment in 2021, for pregnancies up to 20 weeks, termination is allowed under the opinion of one registered medical practitioner.
  • For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, the Rules attached to the law prescribe certain criteria in terms of who can avail termination. It also requires the opinion of two registered medical practitioners in this case.
  • For pregnancies within 20 weeks, termination can be allowed if:
    • the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a 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 any serious physical or mental abnormality.
  • The explanation to the provision states that termination within 20 weeks is allowed “where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children or preventing pregnancy, the anguish caused by such pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.
    • The phrase “any woman or her partner” was also introduced in 2021 in place of the earlier “married woman or her husband”. By eliminating the word “married woman or her husband” from the scheme of the MTP Act, the legislature intended to clarify the scope of Section 3 and bring pregnancies which occur outside the institution of marriage within the protective umbrella of the law.
  • For both stages — within 20 weeks and between 20-24 weeks — termination is allowed “where any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by the pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.
Who falls in the category of women allowed to terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks?
  • For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, Section 3B of the Rules under the MTP Act lists seven categories of women:
    • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;
    • Minors;
    • Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
    • Women with physical disabilities (major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016);
    • Mentally ill women including mental retardation;
    • The foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped;
    • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.

Concerns related to abortion include:

  • Maternal Mortality: Unsafe abortions contribute significantly to maternal mortality, with it being the third leading cause of maternal deaths in India. Approximately 8 women die each day due to complications related to unsafe abortions, according to the UNFPA’s State of the World Population Report 2022.
  • Access to Safe Abortions: Women, especially those from poor families or unmarried women, may resort to unsafe or illegal methods to terminate unwanted pregnancies due to lack of access to safe abortion services. This poses serious health risks to them.
  • Sex-Selective Abortions: In regions where male children are culturally preferred over female children, sex-selective abortions are a significant concern. This practice, driven by gender bias, contributes to skewed sex ratios and perpetuates gender inequality. Countries like India, China, and Pakistan have been particularly affected by this issue.
  • High Incidence of Abortions: According to a study published in the Lancet, India witnesses approximately 15.6 million abortions annually as of 2015. This high incidence of abortions highlights the need for comprehensive reproductive health services, including access to contraception and safe abortion services.
  • Shortage of Qualified Providers: While the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act mandates that abortions should be performed only by qualified doctors specializing in gynaecology or obstetrics, there is a severe shortage of such healthcare providers in rural areas. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s report on Rural Health Statistics indicates a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India, which hampers access to safe abortion services in these areas.

-Source: The Hindu

May 2024