India wants to register all pregnant women to curb illegal abortions

All pregnant women in India who want to have an abortion will soon have to register with the government and get official permission, according to a new Cabinter minister's proposal.

The move would make it more difficult for couples to abort a fetus if they find out it's a girl, a serious problem in India where boys have long been favored, Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury told The Hindustan Times.

"This will help to check both feticide and infant mortality," Chowdhury told the newspaper. "With this, mysterious abortions will become difficult."

Abortions have been legal in India since 1971 and are viewed as a way to curb population growth, but the number of facilities is limited and rural women often resort to abortions performed under unsafe conditions. Prenatal sex determination tests and abortions on the basis of gender are both illegal.

Chowdhury said women will only be allowed to have an abortion when there is a "valid and acceptable reason," but she did not specify what that would mean.

Indian society has long preferred boys, who do not require the enormous dowry payments that bankrupt many poor families when their daughters marry.

India's latest census data shows that the preference for boys has skewed the gender ratio in the population of more than 1.1 billion people. Experts say that sex-selective abortions are responsible for the number of girls per 1,000 boys slipping from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001.

Prenatal sex-determination tests are outlawed in India and the government says it is clamping down on doctors not following the law. But social activists say there are many loopholes that allow those who provide tests to remain free.

Women's rights activists objected to the plan as a violation of privacy.

"It can lead to too much intrusion on somebody's private life," Ranjan Kumari, president of a group of women's non-governmental organizations called Women PowerConnect told the newspaper. "It will also be very difficult to obtain such data. Whether such a thing will be possible in a democracy, I doubt."