MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY BILL: RELIEF FOR WOMEN OR PROBABLE MISUSE FOR FEMALE FOETICIDE?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, was passed by the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. It seeks to amend the section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 i.e.. to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks for "special categories of women" which include rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled and minors.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, who introduced the bill, said, "The bill is the first step towards the safety of women. We have had extensive consultation with several stakeholders. There was also a Group of Ministers and the bill was discussed in great detail,". Further he said this was a very progressive legislation since several petitions had be filed for the same with approx 26 petitions in the Supreme Court and over 100 in High Courts.
Salient features of the bill
- Enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women which will be defined in the amendments to the MTP Rules and would include 'vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors) etc".
- If by the afore mentioned reasons, the pregnancy has to be terminated in 20 weeks, the opinion of one doctor is required. But beyond that, opinion of two doctors would be needed and one of them has to be a government physician.
- Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy is terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised in any law which is in force.
- Any abnormalities are to be diagnosed by a Medical Board comprising ofa gynaecologist, a paediatrician, a radiologist or sonologist, and other members, as may be specified by the state government.
Mixed views of the members
The bill got support by majority of the members but some cautioned that the Bill should be amended to ensure that its provisions are not misused to commit female foeticide and a suggestion was made that the Bill should take within its purview not only pregnant women, but the transgender community as well.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons annexed with the Bill states
"With the passage of time and advancement of medical technology for safe abortion, there is a scope for increasing upper gestational limit for terminating pregnancies especially for vulnerable women and for pregnancies with substantial foetal anomalies detected late in pregnancy. Further, there is also a need for increasing access of women to legal and safe abortion service in order to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity caused by unsafe abortion and its complications."