Legal abortion was introduced in 1971, due to concern about the burgeoning population growth. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act replaced the 1860 Indian Penal Code which allowed abortion only to save the life of the woman.
The new Act allowed a wide range of grounds including social and economic reasons.
Abortion is allowed during the first 12 weeks on the opinion of one doctor. Two doctors are required to approve a second trimester abortion.
The abortion must be performed by a registered doctor in a Government hospital, or in a facility approved by special legislation.
A potential demographic disaster is greatly concerning the Government. Female children are widely considered to be a social and financial liability, especially where the parents have to provide large sums of money and goods for dowries when the daughter is married.
Prenatal tests, particularly ultrasound scans, are used to detect female fetuses, who are then aborted. Such is the demand for ultrasound scans that mobile operators tour rural villages and private clinics abound in towns and cities.
The result is that most Indian states now have serious gender imbalances, with some rural villages almost devoid of young girls.
To counter this practice, in 1994 the Indian Government has outlawed using prenatal testing to detect female foetuses for abortion. It argues that the practice is 'discriminatory against the female sex' and 'affecting the dignity and status of women'.
The law restricts the performance of prenatal diagnostic techniques to cases involving serious diseases and abnormalities and prohibits entirely the use and advertising of such 'sex-selection' techniques.