The Union Cabinet has recently approved an amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 by increasing the gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for abortion for special categories of women. This has come at a time when there was a growing demand to strengthen women’s reproductive rights and to check illegal unsafe abortion.
The MTP Bill 2020 is aimed at expanding access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds. The women who can choose for abortion in increased time limit are the vulnerable ones like survivors of rape, victims of incest and others like differently-abled, minors etc. The upper gestation limit will not apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by the Medical Board.
The proposed increase in gestation limit will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate their pregnancy. It has been suggested that the name and other details such as females whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised by the law.
The move has come following the proposal by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on the basis of advancement in technology.
The development is a welcome step but it should have included all types of women and not just the special categories as mentioned in the amendment. The liberalisation of abortion laws is not a privilege but an absolute right of women.
It is the duty of the state to safeguard the women’s ability to take decisions, to respect their autonomy and not to dictate their choice. Restricting the permissible length of pregnancy to 20 weeks for the women is, no doubt, excessive and harsh. The objective should be to afford medical care to pregnant women and prevent maternal mortalities.
A number of petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court and the High Courts by the affected women for permission to terminate the pregnancy due to foetal abnormalities and having resulted because of sexual violence.
Of all, the most shocking case was of a 10-year-old rape survivor whose plea for a nod for terminating the 32-week-old pregnancy was dismissed by the Supreme Court on July 28th, 2017, in view of a medical report that abortion was neither good for the girl, nor for the foetus.
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