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Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020

The news
Union Cabinet has approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020.The bill will amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
The Bill will be introduced in the budget session of the Parliament. The upper limit of termination of pregnancy has
been increased from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks.

The question of abortion needs to be decided on the basis of
1. Human rights
2. The principles of solid science

3. In step with advancements in technology

In a landmark U.S. Supreme Court judgment in Roe v. Wade, the judges held that the U.S. Constitution protects
a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy and defined viability as the ability to potentially live outside the
mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.

“Viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier, even at 24 weeks.”

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971
Abortion has been legal in India since 1971 (was illegal before that)
Termination of pregnancy can be provided at the discretion of a medical provider upto 20 weeks of gestation period , under certain conditions –

1. When continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;

2. When there is substantial risk that the child, if born, would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental
abnormalities;
3. When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
4. When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband

*The average length of human gestation is 280 days, or 40 weeks.

Goals of MTP act –
1. Control the population from unintended pregnancies
2. Reduce the increasing maternal mortality because of illegal, unsafe abortions.

Abortions in India

  • A 2015 study in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has observed that 10-13% of maternal deaths in India can be attributed to unsafe abortions.
  • It roughly translates into at least six to seven women losing their life due to unsafe abortions every day.
  • Many of those who survive such methods are compelled to live a life of pain compounded by infertility, sepsis and other internal injuries.

Issues with MTP
➢ A woman’s right to decide for herself.
➢ 20 week limit is proving to be a hurdle during Foetal abnormalities

  • When women approach doctors after 20 weeks (a phenomenon that is fairly common due to later detection of abnormalities in the foetus or shame and stigma associated with rape) – no option but to appeal to the courts and run from pillar to post for permission to terminate the pregnancy.

Recent case

  • A brutally raped minor was forced to give birth to her rapist’s child after a high court denied her request for abortion.
  • Examined first by a doctor at 19 weeks of pregnancy, the minor survivor was traumatised when her doctor refused to perform an abortion even though it was permitted under the law.
  • By the time her petition was heard by a court of law, her pregnancy had crossed the 20 week limit beyond which abortion is prohibited under the MTP Act.

Outdated MTP 1971

  • Studies have shown that the 20 week limit on abortion is based on outdated medical concepts from the 1970s.
  • Developments in medical science which include medical abortion pills and vacuum aspiration which allow for safer abortions in advanced stages of pregnancy have found no legal resonance in the MTP Act.
  • Today , medical technologies have made it possible to identify chromosomal abnormalities in a foetus even in the later stages.
  • Usually, the foetal anomaly scan is done during the 20th- 21st week of pregnancy.
  • When women take the legal route to get formal permission for termination after 20 weeks, the process is often frustrating and stressful for a mother already distressed by the bad news regarding her baby.
  • Obstetricians argue that this has also spurred a cottage industry of places providing unsafe abortion services.
  • An estimated 15.6 million abortions take place in the country.
  • About 80% take place outside registered hospitals.
  • The extension of limit would ease the process for these women, allowing the mainstream system itself to take care of them, delivering quality medical attention.

Important changes to be brought by
MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020
• The bill allows abortion up to 24 weeks of gestational age for vulnerable categories of women
• There is no limit of gestational age in case of pregnancies with substantial foetal abnormalities, diagnosed by a
medical board.
• Failure of contraception in married or unmarried woman will be a valid reason for abortion.

• The bill will ensure safe termination of pregnancies and also give women, reproductive rights over their bodies.*
• The government has agreed to a long standing demand from women health and rights’ groups with its decision.

Abortion laws worldwide
• Abortion is allowed in most countries (97 percent) in order to save a woman’s life. Though the laws vary across the world.
• In 2003 the WHO developed technical and policy guidelines to help governments pass progressive abortion laws.
• Worldwide, abortion is acknowledged as an important aspect of reproductive health of women.

  • At present, 26 countries including Egypt, Angola, Thailand, the Philippines, Madagascar and Iraq do not permit abortion.
  • 39 countries including Brazil, Mexico, Sudan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka permit abortion when the woman’s life is at risk.
  • Only some countries like China, Russia, Canada, Australia, South Africa permit abortion on request mostly up to 12 weeks.
  • 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.

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