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Abortion – Amendments to Medical Termination of Pregnancy(MTP) Act -Mixed bag

  • IASbaba
  • February 7, 2020
  • 0
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Governance

Topic: General Studies 2 –

  • Mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections(women)

Abortion – Amendments to Medical Termination of Pregnancy(MTP) Act -Mixed bag

Context 

Union Cabinet’s approval of the amended MTP Bill 2020 which included changes demanded by women’s groups and courts, including the Supreme Court. 

Background

  • Under the 1971 MTP Act, a pregnancy can be terminated until 20 weeks after conception if it will harm the mother, if the pregnancy was the result of rape, if the child will be born with serious physical or mental defects, or in case of contraceptive failure. 
  • If the pregnancy has gone over 20 weeks, then women has to seek legal course to terminate the pregnancy. The slow judicial process is thus pushing her to depend on illegal service providers for termination of unwanted pregnancies
  • According to the ministry of health and family welfare, abortion deaths constitute 8% of all maternal deaths per year in India

The Bill seeks to extend the termination of pregnancy period from 20 months to 24 months, making it easier for women to safely and legally terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The proposed amendments will definitely reduce the burden on the judiciary. The Court cases are broadly of two types. Let us critically analyse both these types

Type 1 –Pregnancies that extend beyond 20 weeks of gestation as a result of rape, incest or of minor women.

  • The new Act rightly addresses these by extending prescribed period abortion to 24 weeks. 
  • However, such cases form a minuscule proportion of the total number. 
  • For such cases, even the 24-week cap can be done away with, provided the abortions can be safely done.

Type 2– Pregnancies that become unwanted after congenital foetal anomalies are found upon testing

  • With advancement in prenatal foetal screening/diagnostic technologies –like Ultrasonography-  more such cases are being filed in courts
  • The extension to 24 weeks seems to give cover to these cases for abortion services, thus opening up the possibility for any congenital anomaly to be used as grounds for abortion.
  • These foetal anomalies would involve some which are compatible with life and some which are incompatible with life.
  • What constitutes an anomaly and whether it is life compatible or not depending on medical advancement and what is considered as socially desirable
  • This raises concerns that raising children with disability can become “socially undesirable”

Conclusion

  • With congenital anomalies as a ground for abortion, the eugenic mindset of having socially desirable children could push more women into risky late abortions. 
  • The approach of medical boards advising courts in cases of late abortions under this Act will be critical to balancing women’s right to choose with risk to the woman and the motives for abortion.

Other Salient feature of the bill are:

  1. Requirement of opinion of one registered medical practitioner (RMP) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation – Earlier two RMP
  2. Requirement of opinion of two RMPs for termination of pregnancy of 20 to 24 week
  3. Raising the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women, including include rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled women and minors
  4. Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed, except to a person authorised in any law
  5. Extend the contraceptive-failure clause for termination to include “any woman or her partner” from the present provision for “only married woman or her husband”.

Connecting the dots!

  • Reproductive rights of a women vs Rights (if any) of an unborn child

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