Context: Recently lok sabha passed a Bill to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from 20 weeks to 24 under special circumstances.
Important provisions of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020:
- The bill seeks to amend MTP Act, 1971.
- It aims to expand the access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therauptic, eugenic, social and humanitarian ground.
- Categories of women for whom upper limit has been extended: The “special categories of women” include rape survivors, victims of incest, the differently abled and minors.
- The Bill adds the definition of termination of pregnancy to mean a procedure undertaken to terminate a pregnancy by using medical or surgical methods.
- Termination of pregnancy:
- Under the Act, a pregnancy may be terminated within 12 weeks, if a registered medical practitioner is of the opinion that: (i) continuation of the pregnancy may risk the life of the mother, or cause grave injury to her health, or (ii) there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer physical or mental abnormalities.
- For termination of a pregnancy between 12 to 20 weeks, two medical practitioners are required to give their opinion.
- Approval of two registered medical practitioners will be required for termination of pregnancies between 20 to 24 weeks.
- The bill Replaced ‘married woman or her husband’ with ‘woman or her partner’.
- Every state government is required to constitute a Medical Board.
- Constitution of a Medical Board:The Bill states that the upper limit of termination of pregnancy will not apply in cases where such termination is necessary due to the diagnosis of substantial foetal abnormalities. These abnormalities will be diagnosed by a Medical Board.
- Privacy of women: The Bill states that no registered medical practitioner will be allowed to reveal the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated, except to a person authorised by any law.
Illegal and unsafe abortions in India:
- In India Backward abortion laws contributed to women seeking illegal and unsafe options.
- Recent reports have shown that more than 10 women die everyday due to unsafe abortions in India.
- 15.6 mn abortions occurred in India in 2015 of which 78% were outside health facilities, says Lancet Global Health study.
- Number of pleas in court increasing: Majority of these pleas are due to foetal anomalies that are detected late and/or cases of sexual assault and rape, particularly of minors, where doctors are not willing to provide abortions, irrespective of gestational stage.
- This has led to delaying access to safe abortion care which subjects women and girls to repeated examination by medical boards and at times denial of services.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971-legalized abortion in India up to 20 weeks of pregnancy under different circumstances.
- Division of regulatory framework according to the gestational age of foetus:
- Under Section 3 of MTP act 1971: for foetuses that are aged up to 12 weeks, only one medical practitioner’s opinion is required to the effect that the continuance of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the life of the mother or cause grave injury to her physical or mental health.
- For foetuses aged 12 to 20 weeks: at least two medical practitioners’ opinions conforming to either of the two conditions are required.
- For more than 20 weeks: termination may be carried out where it is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
- ‘grave injury’ : It is explained as the anguish caused by a pregnancy arising out of rape, or the anguish caused by an unwanted pregnancy arising out of the failure of a contraceptive used by a married woman or her husband.
Judgements related to Abortions
Haresh and Niketa Mehta case 2008:
Bombay High Court was petitioned by Haresh and Niketa Mehta to allow them to abort their foetus that had been diagnosed with a heart defect in its 22nd week.
The case got nationwide attention, the Mehtas’ plea was turned down, and Niketa Mehta eventually suffered a miscarriage in the 27th week of her pregnancy.
Mrs. X v. Union of India, 2017:
The Supreme Court has recognised women’s right to make reproductive choices and their decision to abort as a dimension of their personal liberty.
K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, 2017: Fundamental right to privacy
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