Pregnancy abortion in India may get easier with this new bill but experts have other concerns

Luma Pimentel
  • The bill aims to extend the period of allowed termination of pregnancy from 12 weeks at present to 20 weeks.
  • Moreover, the bill also intends to change the terms “married women or her husband” to “woman and her partner.”
  • It was presented and lapsed thrice in Parliament— in 2014, 2017, and 2018.
One of the important bills to be presented during the monsoon session of the Indian Parliament starting today is The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

It was presented and lapsed thrice in Parliament— in 2014, 2017, and 2018. “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,” Press Information Bureau wrote.

What is Medical Termination Pregnancy Amendment Bill

The bill seeks amendments in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The bill seeks to add the definition of termination of pregnancy to mean a procedure undertaken to terminate a pregnancy by using medical or surgical methods.
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“India will now stand amongst nations with a highly progressive law which allows legal abortions on a broad range of therapeutic, humanitarian and social grounds. The new MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is a milestone which will further empower women, especially those who are vulnerable and victims of rape,” Union Cabinet Minister Smriti Irani wrote in her blog.

It aims to extend the period of allowed termination of pregnancy from 12 weeks at present to 20 weeks. And, for cases of termination of pregnancy between 20-24 weeks, approval would be required for a registered medical practitioner.

In January this year, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the extension to 24 weeks will also help victims of rape, girls with disabilities as well as minors, who may not realise they are pregnant until later.
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Currently, a pregnancy may be terminated within 12 weeks if the registered medical practitioner thinks that:
  • Continuation of the pregnancy may risk the life of the mother or cause grave injury to her health.
  • Or if there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer physical or mental abnormalities.
Moreover, the current bill also intends to change the terms “married women or her husband” to “woman and her partner.” The bill further aims to constitute a medical board under each state government.

Concerns surrounding the current Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and the present problems

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In India, according to reports, over ten women die every day because of “unsafe abortions.” And the current Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, makes the situation even worse.

Experts say the first and foremost problem with the law is a healthcare provider seeking abortion rather than the woman herself. In many countries, including France, Iceland, South Africa, Uruguay, women can get an abortion.

Secondly, foetal abnormalities can now come to light even after 20 weeks. However, the present law doesn’t allow abortion after 20 weeks.

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So even if the doctor detects abnormalities — that can risk the life of a mother — they are not allowed to abort because of the law. For instance, in 2008, a Bombay High Court rejected a plea to abort a foetus that suffered heart defect in its 22nd week in Haresh and Niketa Mehta case.

A lack of complete autonomy

Despite being progressive, there are several issues left untouched with the new bill as well.

“The amended Act doesn’t have any new substantial provisions to avoid unsafe abortions. The right to safe abortion (at least till 12 weeks, when it is safer) would have made state responsible to provide safe abortion services,” according to Prachinkumar Ghodajkar, an Assistance Profession at entre of Social Medicine and Community Health, JNU.

Moreover, according to Tusharika Mattoo, a practising lawyer in New Delhi, the women’s bodily autonomy is completely absent in the new MTP bill.
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“We have taken several steps backwards, and have eroded what was painstakingly achieved in terms of jurisprudence. The Bill’s focus continues to be on eugenics over the health of women, and the question of the well-being of a woman even when addressed appears to be secondary,” Tusharika Mattoo, a lawyer practising in Delhi, and a member of Women in Criminal Law Association wrote.

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