On January 29, 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The bill requires further approval in the ensuing session of the Parliament to form a revised Act.
According to Section 3 (2) of the MTP Act, 1971, a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner:;
- Where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks, or
- Where the length of the pregnancy exceeds twelve weeks but does not exceed twenty weeks. In this case, the abortion will take place, if not less than two registered medical practitioners are of opinion, that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman (her physical or mental health); or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from some physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped.
The proposed amendments introduce the following provisions:
- For termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation the opinion of one registered medical practitioner will be required, and for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation opinion of two registered medical practitioners will be required.
- Extending the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women which includes vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differentlyabled women, minors) etc.
- Upper gestation limit not to apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by Medical Board. The composition, functions and other details of Medical Board to be prescribed subsequently in Rules under the Act.
- Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorized in any law for the time being in force.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is for expanding access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds. The proposed amendments to increase upper gestation limit for termination of pregnancy for women in special category aim to strengthen access to comprehensive abortion care, under strict conditions, without compromising service and quality of safe abortion.
The amendment is in response to several petitions received by the courts seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at a gestational age beyond the present permissible limit on grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence faced by women. Further, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed amendments after extensive consultation with various stake holders and several ministries1.
Note – At present most countries allow elective abortions but only a few including Canada, China, the Netherlands, North Korea, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam permit MTP after 20 weeks. The late termination of pregnancy is legally get conflict with the viability of the foetus (where a foetus is capable of living outside the womb) and risk of maternal mortality in case of unsafe abortion or risk related to delayed abortion.
Originally published 28 April, 2020
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