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Posted by: 2017-01-20 12:00:00 , By Raj Kumar

The Supreme Court on Monday permitted a woman in Mumbai to abort her 24 week foetus on the grounds that continuing with the pregnancy could endanger the life of the woman. Abortion is legal in India, but it's not at will, it's only permissible if it would involve a risk to the health of the pregnant woman.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act makes a distinction between twelve weeks and twenty weeks. Under twelve weeks, an abortion can be prescribed by one doctor and after twelve weeks an abortion has to be be prescribed by two. If the pregnancy exceeds twenty weeks you go into the grey area of Section 5 of the Act which says that a medical practitioner, may in good faith, terminate a pregnancy if they feel it is necessary to immediately save the life of a woman.

However, the grey area exists because there are provisions in the Penal Code of 1860 that still criminalise abortion done in violation of the Act namely Section 312 of the Penal Code which could expose the doctor concerned to imprisonment of up to seven years. So doctors are very wary of taking that risk due to the language of Section 5, which uses the word "immediately". So when there is a situation where the life of a woman is at risk, the woman is put in a situation where she has to wait till the risk grows so high that she is immediately at risk of death before a doctor is willing to risk the law, or she has to do what the petitioner did, and move the Court for permission to have an abortion after twenty weeks.

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