The law in a nutshell
Before deciding to have an abortion, it’s important to be aware of what’s legal and what’s not – when it comes to abortion, there are huge legal variations from country to country.
When abortion is legal, that doesn’t mean you can decide to have one at a late stage of the pregnancy. The limit varies, so in some countries you can have an abortion until you’re 28 weeks pregnant. In others the limit can be as low as 12 weeks.
In some countries the law only lets you have an abortion in certain circumstances, for example if you have physical or mental health problems, you’ve been raped, you can’t afford to look after the baby properly, or there’s something wrong with the foetus.
India is one of the earlier countries to have a law on abortion, as early as 1971. The law upholds the right of every woman to access safe and affordable abortion services in any government hospital, clinic or approved facility. While the law does not permit an abortion simply because the woman doesn’t want to have the baby, but abortion is legal if:
- It will help the woman’s physical or mental health
- For economic or social reasons
- If the pregnancy is a cause of contraception failure
- To save the woman’s life
- If there’s a problem with the foetus
- In cases of rape, incest.
In any case, it must be done during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, and after the 12th week you need the opinion of a second doctor except in an emergency.
The abortion must be performed by a registered doctor in a government hospital or other approved facility. The pregnant woman must give permission for an abortion, and also requires the consent of her parents if she’s still a minor.
You can check where the law stands on abortion where you live here.
If you're in India (where abortion is legal), you can contact Love Matters' partner FPA India for advice, information and safe abortion.
You can also visit Women Help Women's website to access resources and information on safe abortion.
What happens when you have an abortion?
It depends on where you live which method is most commonly used. It’s also important how long you’ve been pregnant. You can only have a medical abortion in the first eight weeks of pregnancy.
Between 2 and 6 million women have illegal abortions in India every year. In many cases they would be entitled to a legal abortion, so why not go to a registered doctor? Some don’t realise that abortion is legal, and don’t know what the options are. Other women just don’t have access to health care, particularly in rural areas. Or they may want to keep it secret, and worry about the lack of anonymity at public health centres.
But if you choose to have an illegal abortion, you’re taking a serious risk: unsafe abortions account for around 20% of maternal deaths in India.
It’s important to have a safe and legal abortion. There are two types of safe abortion, medical and surgical abortions. The most suitable one for you depends on how many weeks pregnant you are (calculated from the first day of your last period).
How do you feel emotionally after an abortion?
How you feel after an abortion depends on why you chose to do it. Most women don’t need psychological help after an abortion, and they often feel relieved. There is absolutely no shame in feeling relief. You made the best decision under the circumstances. And you’re not alone - millions of women have abortions every year.
Of course, nobody can dictate how you feel. Feelings of guilt, sadness or grief are also common, but they are emotions that don’t last forever. In countries like India, where abortion is taboo, it might be harder to overcome these emotions.
It’s always best to talk your decision through with someone you trust. The surer you are of your decision, the better you will feel afterwards. Make sure you are the one who makes the decision to have an abortion, or not to have it. Don’t let anyone pressure you into a decision you don’t feel comfortable with.
After an abortion your hormones are returning to the way they were before your pregnancy, which may also leave you feeling emotional. If any of this is the case, talk to a close friend or family member who can comfort and support you.
And don’t worry: if you had a safe abortion there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get pregnant again.
In very rare cases, women become very depressed after an abortion. Depression is serious, and if you think you are depressed, you might consider talking to a professional about it.