Explained: Why it is important to amend Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971?
New Delhi, Jan 29: Moving to ease abortion laws in the country, the Union Cabinet is likely to approve changes in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. The draft has been circulated by the ministry of health and family welfare.
According to the 2014 draft bill, the upper limit for termination of a pregnancy will be extended from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. This will help in decreasing maternal morbidity and mortality and may also help in preventing wastage of resources invested in a pregnancy and preserving the woman's health, strength, and above all, life.
So, you must be wondering what is MTP Act 1971?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971 was passed by the Parliament in 1972. It protected women's right to life through its provisions. Before 1971, abortion was criminalized under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, describing it as intentionally 'causing miscarriage'.
It is a law that legalized abortion in India up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on certain conditions and when provided by a registered medical practitioner at a registered medical facility.
According to the existing rules, when Pregnancies may be terminated by registered medical practitioners
(a) Where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks if such medical practitioner is,
(b) where the length of the pregnancy exceeds twelve weeks but does not exceed twenty weeks, if not less than two registered medical practitioners are.
(i) The continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or
(ii) There is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped.
No pregnancy of a woman, who has not attained the age of eighteen
years, or, who, having attained the age of eighteen years, is a lunatic, shall be
terminated except with the consent in writing of her guardian.
This section contains two explanations in the Act:
Explanation 1.-Where any, pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by such pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.
Explanation 2.-Where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children, the anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.
Whose consent is required for termination of pregnancy?
As per the provisions of the MTP Act, only the consent of woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is required. However, in case of a minor i.e. below the age of 18 years, or a mentally ill woman, consent of guardian (MTP Act defines guardian as someone who has the care of the minor. This does not imply that only parent/s are required to consent) is required for termination.
Why is it important to amend the MTP Act 1971?
Globally, 56 million abortions take place every year. According to Health Management Information System (HMIS) reports, the total number of spontaneous/induced abortions that took place in India in 2016-17 was 970436, in 2015-16 was 901781, in 2014-15 was 901839, and in 2013-14 was 790587. Even after bortion was legalised 49 years ago, ten women reportedly die due to unsafe abortions every day in India.
Other barriers to safe abortion include the implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (POCSO Act), and the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act, 1994 (PCPNDT) as result of which doctors hesitate to provide abortion services to women and young girls. In recent past there have been many PILs filed in courts seeking abortions.
Abortion laws across the world:
Abortion laws vary across the world. It is learnt that around 60 countries prescribe gestational limits.
52 % including France, the UK, Austria, Ethiopia, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and even Nepal, allow for termination beyond 20 weeks on the diagnosis of foetal abnormalities.
Some countries go beyond even these limits with laws in 23 countries-Canada, Germany, Vietnam, Denmark, Ghana, and Zambia-allowing for abortion at any time during the pregnancy on the request of the mother.
In UK, abortions are allowed at up to 24 weeks, with abortion guidelines formulated by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists including procedures for termination of pregnancies older than 20 weeks. It also states that, in pregnancy older than 21 weeks and 6 days, an injection to cause foetal death is given before the foetus is evacuated. Many other countries follow the same procedure for late-term abortions.