Need for Revision of Abortion Laws in India

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By admin May 29, 2019 17:11

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News: Recently, Delhi High Court issued a notice to the Centre on a petition seeking to raise the time period for terminating a pregnancy in case of health risk to the mother or the fetus from the current cap of 20 weeks to 24-26 weeks.

Some of the abortion-related facts

Following are the findings of the study conducted by Guttmacher Institute: –

  • In 2015, total 15.6 million abortions occurred in India, 78% of these were outside of health facilities.
  • In India 3.4 million abortions take place in health facilities.
  • 5 million medical abortions take place outside health facilities.
  • 8 million abortions take place outside health facilities and through unsafe methods.
  • 8% of maternal deaths in India are caused by unsafe abortions.

Laws related to abortion in India

Section 312 of IPC provides for jail term up to 7 years for the person voluntarily causing miscarriage to a women or for the women herself if she herself to miscarry.

POCSO Act, 2012 mandates reporting of all abortion cases of girls under the age of 18 years.

Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act outlaws sex-selective acts of termination of pregnancy.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTPA), 1971

MTPA governs the right to abortion. It allows medical termination of pregnancy but only by a “registered medical practitioner” at a registered medical termination of pregnancy center.

It limits the grounds of abortion to the following situations:

  • Where there is a risk that if child is born, it would suffer from physical and mental abnormalities.
  • Where pregnancy can be a threat to life of women or would cause grave physical and mental injury to her.
  • Where pregnancy caused due to rape or due to the failure of contraceptive methods.

Act allows the medical termination of pregnancy in the first 3 months, but only with the approval of one registered medical specialist.

Between 12-20 weeks, pregnancy can be terminated with the approval of 2 medical practitioners.

Beyond 5 months, termination of pregnancy is allowed on the grounds mentioned under section 3 of the MTP Act, subject to the approval of court:

MTP Amendment Act of 2002

Act amended MTP, 1971.

It decentralized the regulation of private abortion facilities from the State to District Level Committees.

It also allowed Registered Medical Practitioners to provide medical pill abortions up to 7 weeks of pregnancy in a facility approved for providing abortion services.

Why restrictions on abortion?

  • A foetus after certain period becomes a living being with heartbeats and grown body part with movements, thus killing it must be counted as crime on par with killing of human being.
  • A foetus at the later stages has a right to life.
  • Many women go through abortion under pressure from family or society, only to bear mental trauma due to guilt feeling afterwards.
  • There are evidence that abortion can cause damage and/or infection to the uterus and the Fallopian tubes making a woman infertile. It also increases the risk of breast cancer at the later stages of life.

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Criticisms of abortion mechanism in India

POCSO-MTP issue: Due to the reporting requirements mentioned in POCSO act, abortion service providers hesitates in providing services to the girls less than 18 years of age. It becomes a big problem considering the fact that child marriage is still prevalent in rural India.

Violation of rights: Women must be the rightful decision maker for her body and should not be forced to carry or not carry a pregnancy.  She must be provided with Right to Life and liberty as enshrined under article 21 of the constitution.

20 weeks ceiling

  • The ceiling of 20 weeks for termination of pregnancy is a source of many concerns. Like in cases involving child assault and underage rape victims, pregnancy condition may come to light very late.
  • Court Judgments on the abortion cases involving pregnancy of over 20 weeks have been arbitrary. There are many examples where judgment forced women to continue with the pregnancy and deliver babies with severe health defects.
  • Moreover, the judicial process is so slow that the victim’s pregnancy more often than not crosses the legal limit and she is unable to get the abortion done.
  • In many cases, rape victims are not allowed to terminate the pregnancy if it is over 20 weeks and does not pose any risk to the life of the woman.
  • Most of the tests/scans done to identify any severe abnormality or genetic disorder are conducted after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Misuse of PCPNDT Act: It provides power to law enforcement agencies to look into the abortion cases to find out if their motive to terminate pregnancy was based on gender identification.  It goes against the MTP act, where termination of pregnancy is not dependent upon gender of foetus.

Lack of adequate doctors: One of the major reason due to which there is an increase in the numbers of unsafe termination of pregnancy is lack of sufficient number of registered and trained medical practitioners.

Way forward

As discussed above, mechanism for abortion in India is full of challenges and concerns. Following are some of the steps that could be taken for improving it:

  • Access to safe abortion services must be strengthened by adequate infrastructure and availability of trained professionals.
  • Upper gestation limit for abortions of 20 weeks must be extended considering the issues surrounding it.
  • A parliamentary panel in 2018 has recommended permitting abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy and allowing unmarried women to medically terminate pregnancies
  • Awareness about legality of abortion among the backward areas must be increased by campaigns and programs with the help of anganwadi infrastructure.
  • MTP must be modified and aligned with the present requirements of the citizens.
  • Draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill shall be passed as soon as possible. It provides for :
    • Improving the scope of legal access to MTP for special category of women which includes survivors of rape, victims of incest, single women.
    • Upper gestational limit for termination of pregnancy for survivors of rape has been proposed to be increased from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
    • No upper gestation limit for pregnancies diagnosed with substantial foetal abnormalities.

 

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By admin May 29, 2019 17:11