The activists behind the RTI investigation are concerned that the high rate of abortions masks an underlying trend of sex-selective abortions, which are officially illegal in India but in fact are very common, especially in smaller clinics.
“The number of legal abortions taking place in public hospitals is very high,” said Rajhans Bansal, the activist who filed the RTI. “It should be investigated if people are using medical ground as an alibi for sex-selective abortion. In [the] private sector, it is common.”
The RTI data reveals that 40,238 babies were aborted in Delhi’s hospitals abortions between 2008-2009, but that number dropped drastically the following year to 13,850.
By 2011-2012, that number has risen to just under 19,000.
According to the RTI, 88,188 abortions were performed in Delhi government hospitals over the last four years.
Nationally, India has reported over 600,000 abortions every year for the past 12 years.
Though the desire to space pregnancies and control family size is the most common reason for abortions in India, experts say that sex-selective abortion is an underreported reason.
Because the RTI only investigated abortions in government hospitals, the actual abortion numbers are significantly higher, according to experts.
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“More than 80 percent of medical abortions take place in private nursing homes and by private practitioners,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research, told the Times of India.
That would include many sex-selective abortions, which Dr. Suneeta Mittal, former head of the gynecology department at All India Institutes of Medical Sciences, has said “are more common in small clinics operating illegally and not in government-run institutions.”
Abortion was legalized in India in 1971, when the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was enacted. The act allows abortion if the pregnancy involves grave risk to the physical or mental health to the mother, or if there is significant risk of physical or mental abnormalities in the child.
The act also allows abortion in the case of contraception failure, but only for married women.