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France Enshrines Abortion Rights in Constitution

Context: March 4, 2024, will stand out in history as the day France enshrined “the right of women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy” into its Constitution, becoming the first nation globally to elevate it to a constitutional right, nearly half a century since the legalization of abortion. In an era where women’s rights face challenges worldwide, France’s landmark decision echoes a powerful message of support and unity to women everywhere.

Relevance: GS paper 2, 4


  • France is the only country to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.
  • Measures were approved in a 780-72 vote in the place of Versailles.
  • S. Supreme Court officially reversed Roe v. Wade, declaring that the constitutional right to abortion, upheld for nearly half a century, no longer exists.
  • Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum and has been legal since 1975.
  • Amended Article 34 of the French Constitution.
  • Yugoslavia: 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children”.

Indian Scenario

  • Until the 1960s, abortion was illegal in India
  • It was a crime under section 312 of IPC (Repealed)
  • Shantilal Shah committee: The medical termination bill was introduced in 1971

Evolution of India’s Abortion Legislation: The MTP Act

  • Pre-1960s: Criminalization of Abortion

Before the 1960s, abortion was considered a criminal offense under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), subject to legal punishment.

  • 1964: Establishment of the Shantilal Shah Committee

This committee was formed to review abortion laws and consider the necessity for reform in India. It advocated for more lenient abortion laws to decrease the rate of unsafe abortions and maternal deaths.

  • 1971: Enactment of the MTP Act

Following the Shantilal Shah Committee’s suggestions, the MTP Act was enacted by Parliament in August 1971. It legalized abortion under certain conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation and protected doctors performing abortions within the act’s guidelines. The act required the consent of one medical practitioner for abortions up to 12 weeks and the consensus of two practitioners for those between 12 and 20 weeks.

  • Amendments to the MTP Act

The MTP Act underwent a minor revision in 2002 to incorporate the use of medical abortion pills, mifepristone and misoprostol.

  • 2021: Extension of the Abortion Period

A significant amendment in 2021 extended the permissible abortion period to 24 weeks under certain conditions. The updated act allows for abortion on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks and requires the concurrence of two doctors for abortions between 20 and 24 weeks. It identifies seven specific groups of women eligible for this extended period, including sexual assault or incest survivors, minors, those changing marital status, physically disabled women, mentally ill women, cases of fetal anomaly, and women in emergency or disaster situations.

  • Importance of the MTP Act

The MTP Act safeguards the anonymity of women undergoing abortions, barring disclosure of their information without legal authorization. Supporting this act is crucial for advancing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 3.1, 3.7, and 5.6, targeting the reduction of maternal mortality and promoting health and gender equality.

Overview of Global Abortion Regulations

  • Prohibition of Abortion in 24 Nations

In 24 countries, abortion is completely illegal, impacting around 90 million women of childbearing age, which constitutes 5% of the global total. This list includes countries like Senegal, Mauritania, Egypt, Laos, the Philippines, El Salvador, Honduras, Poland, and Malta.

  • Abortion with Conditions in 50 Countries

Fifty nations, including Libya, Indonesia, Nigeria, Iran, and Venezuela, allow abortions only under specific conditions, such as when the woman’s health is at risk or in cases of rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.


  • Accessible Abortion Laws

Countries like Canada, Australia, and most of Europe have relatively liberal abortion laws, with the main restrictions being gestational limits, usually between 12 to 14 weeks.

Controversies Surrounding Abortion

Concerns Against Abortion

  • Foetal Pain: The potential for fetuses to feel pain during abortions after 20 weeks of gestation raises ethical concerns.
  • Psychological Effects: There are debates around the potential for increased depression risks in women who have had abortions.
  • Reduction in Adoptions: Some argue that promoting adoption as an alternative to abortion could be beneficial as acceptance of single parenthood grows.
  • Use as Contraception: Ethical debates arise over using abortion as a form of birth control, underscoring the value of fetal life.
  • Moral and Personal Responsibility: The argument that individuals should bear the consequences of their actions, particularly about pregnancy.

Arguments Supporting Abortion Rights

  • Bodily Autonomy: Abortion rights support a woman’s autonomy over her own body and reproductive decisions.
  • Life Choices: Abortion access allows individuals to control their life trajectory, preventing unwanted pregnancies from derailing personal goals.
  • Prevention of Unsafe Abortions: Legal access to abortion helps mitigate the risks associated with unsafe abortion practices, which can be fatal.
  • Adaptation to Social Changes: Legal frameworks should evolve with societal changes, recognizing realities such as premarital sex and diverse family dynamics.
  • Consideration of Fetal Anomalies: The allowance for late-term abortions in cases of detected fetal abnormalities is crucial for the safety and rights of women.
  • Support for Assault Victims: Access to abortion is essential for victims of sexual assault or marital rape, safeguarding their physical and mental health.

Global Abortion Statistics and Solutions

  • Annually, approximately 73 million induced abortions occur worldwide.
  • A significant portion of pregnancies and unintended pregnancies end in abortion, with a notable percentage being unsafe, particularly in developing nations.
  • Addressing unsafe abortions is critical to reducing maternal mortality rates.

Way Forward

  • Recognizing abortion as a human right is crucial, as supported by various international bodies.
  • Efforts should be made to reduce unsafe abortions, as pledged by numerous governments.
  • The MTP Act specifies that abortions should be conducted by qualified medical professionals, though there’s a notable shortage in rural areas, highlighting the need for accessible safe abortion services.
  • Discussions on decriminalizing abortion are vital, considering its implications on women’s rights and health.
  • Improving the safety and accessibility of abortion services is essential for advancing maternal health and societal well-being.

In conclusion, the ongoing discourse on the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act reflects the complex balance between legal frameworks and women’s rights to abortion, underscoring the importance of nuanced and empathetic approaches to this sensitive issue.

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What is the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India?

The MTP Act is a legislation in India that regulates the termination of pregnancies. It sets guidelines for legal abortions, ensuring the safety and well-being of women seeking abortion services.

When was the MTP Act enacted, and what were its key provisions?

The MTP Act was enacted in August 1971. Initially, it allowed abortions up to 20 weeks under specific conditions, with the consent of one doctor up to 12 weeks and two doctors between 12 and 20 weeks.

What amendments have been made to the MTP Act?

The MTP Act underwent amendments, including one in 2002 allowing medical abortion pills and a significant one in 2021, extending the permissible abortion period to 24 weeks under certain conditions.

Who is eligible for abortion beyond 20 weeks under the amended MTP Act?

The amended act identifies seven specific groups of women eligible for abortion beyond 20 weeks, including sexual assault or incest survivors, minors, those changing marital status, physically disabled women, mentally ill women, cases of fetal anomaly, and women in emergency or disaster situations.

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Hey there! I'm Nikesh, a content writer at Adda247. I specialize in creating informative content focused on UPSC and State PSC exams. Join me as we unravel the complexities of these exams and turn aspirations into achievements together!

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