The case of a 10-year-old rape victim seeking the court permission to abort has once again brought to the forefront the issue of the need for a comprehensive law on Medical Termination of Pregnancy. An explainer on the draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2014.
What is it?
The draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill of 2014 seeks to amend Section 3 of the principle The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 to provide that “the length of pregnancy shall not apply” in a decision to abort a foetus diagnosed with “substantial foetal abnormalities as may be prescribed”.
Why should the MTP Act be amended?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India was amended in 2003 to facilitate better implementation and increase access for women especially in the private health sector. However, unsafe abortions are widely prevalent even 40 years after the Act came into force.
The current Act does not allow abortions above the gestational age of 20 weeks. However, legal experts have argued that medical science and technology have made the 20-week ceiling redundant and that conclusive determination of foetal abnormality is possible in most cases after the 20th week of gestational age.
What do medical and legal experts and activists say?
According to data from The Registrar General of India, Sample Registration System (2001-03), unsafe abortions contribute to 8% of the total maternal deaths. Making out a strong case to amend the Act to increase the availability of safe and legal abortions in India, all stakeholders argue that unsafe abortions still continue to outnumber safe and legal abortions in the country.
What are the main features of the 2014 draft Amendment bill?
Besides increasing the legal limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, the draft Bill allows a woman to take an independent decision in consultation with a registered health-care provider. Under the 1971 Act, even pregnant rape victims cannot abort after 20 weeks, compelling them to move court.
What is the current status of Medical Termination of Pregnancy?
The 2014 draft is yet to see light. With the 2014 Bill in limbo, the Supreme Court is the last resort of the affected people. The Court has agreed to look into whether a wider interpretation ought to be given to phrases like “risk to the life of the pregnant woman” and “grave injury to her physical and mental health”.