On June 24, The Supreme Court of the United States overturned the 50-year-old Roe v Wade judgement, where the constitution protected a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion. While many prominent people, including former US President Barack Obama, have spoken up against the new development, we looked at what data and law says about abortions in India.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 legalises abortion under various circumstances in India. It was subsequently amended, latest in October 2021, that women can terminate pregnancies up to 20 weeks, with a doctor’s opinion. There are special provisions for rape victims, minors, disabled women and the mentally ill.

The latest National Family Health Survey shows that around 3 per cent of total pregnancies in India end up in abortions. While 4 per cent pregnant urban women opted for abortions, the proportion was 2.5 per cent among rural women. The trend is obviously not uniform throughout the country. In Manipur, more than a tenth of the total pregnant women aborted their fetus, while it was just 0.2 per cent in neighbouring Meghalaya and Mizoram, respectively. Manipur showed a similar trend in the previous NFHS as well.

Almost half of the Indian women who aborted their fetus, 47.6 per cent, said that the reason was unplanned pregnancy. “Ten per cent of women reported that the last child was too young to have the next birth as the main reason for the abortion. Among the remaining reasons, more than one-fourth of women in Ladakh (40 per cent), Lakshadweep (33 per cent), Tamil Nadu (31 per cent), and Telangana (27 per cent) mentioned health concerns as the major reason for getting the abortion,” the report says.

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However, even now, not a lot of these are performed medically. More than a quarter of the total abortions in India, 26.2 per cent occurred at the woman’s house. That is 1,541 of the 5,882 women surveyed. The real numbers could be much higher. Only 16.3 per cent of the women had surgical abortions. Most of them, 67.5 per cent, relied on medicines.

The NFHS data also says that more educated and rich women opted for abortions, in comparison with the others. 4.1 per cent of the pregnant women who belonged to the highest wealth quintile have had abortions, while in the lowest quintile, it is just 1.7 per cent. Similarly, while 1.9 per cent of women with no schooling chose abortions, the proportion was 3.4 per cent in women who had 12 or more years of schooling.