I embark upon the legal aspects of Emergency Contraception, it is necessary to
examine as to what EC is. According to general medical usage, pregnancy begins
with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall. The process of
implantation commences at the end of the first week after fertilization. Methods
that delay or inhibit ovulation, block fertilization or prevent implantation of
the fertilized egg are means of preventing pregnancy. The purpose of Emergency
Contraception is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. We have, therefore, to keep in
mind one basic factor that Emergency Contraception is a contraceptive measure
used to prevent pregnancy and not a measure used after pregnancy.
The WHO describes EC as contraceptive methods that can be used by women in the
few days following unprotected intercourse to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Abortion
laws around the world recognise a clear distinction between abortion and contraception.
They may do so either explicitly i.e. by narrowly defining the term pregnancy
or they may do so implicitly.
law includes nations like -
which states that "Abortion means the medical or surgical procedure carried
out for the purpose of procuring the destruction or death of an embryo/foetus
Germany, which states
that "Procedure whose effect occurs before the fertilised egg settles in the uterine
wall do not constitute abortion in the sense of this law",
which states that "Termination of pregnancy shall not mean the application
of a method to prevent the nidation (implantation) of a fertilized ovum in the
Liberia, which states that it
is not applicable to "Drugs or other substances for avoiding pregnancy, whether
by preventing implantation of a fertilized ovum or by any other method that operates
before, at or immediately after fertilization".
The United States Government also defines pregnancy as beginning with the confirmation
of implantation. At least one United States Federal Court has held that "abortion,
as it is commonly understood, does not include the IUD, the morning-after pill,
or for example, birth control pills".
are a number of countries like India where the abortion laws refer to terms like
‘termination of pregnancy’ or ‘procurement of miscarriage’. Both these phrases
implicitly exclude procedures carried out prior to implantation of the fertilized
egg in the uterine wall. Other countries include China, France, UK, Israel and
Zambia along with India.
In India, the Medical
Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (Act No.34 of 1971) was promulgated by Parliament
to provide for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act
creates no legal bar whatsoever to the use of Emergency Contraceptive.
far as ethical aspects of EC are concerned, I would like to state that under the
personal law of a number of communities, abortion has been legally prohibited.
But since emergency contraceptives are to be taken prior to the implantation of
the fertilized egg in the uterine wall, i.e., prior to the commencement of pregnancy,
women belonging to these communities can also use EC without the fear of having
contravened their respective personal laws, and they will not be guilty of doing
any act contrary to their personal law.
what I feel is that the general public is still unaware of the availability of
emergency contraceptive. In fact, I had conducted an informal survey amongst my
lawyer colleagues, and it was surprising to find that more than 90% had no knowledge
about the existence of Emergency Contraception.