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Explainer: What is the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

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New Delhi, Feb 02: On January 29, 2020, the Union Cabinet approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

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

The bill requires further approval in the ensuing session of the Parliament to form a revised Act.

Explainer: What is the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

What is the need for the Amendment?

  • A 2015 study in the India Journal of Medical Ethics noted that 10-13 per cent of maternal deaths in India are due to unsafe abortions. This makes unsafe abortions to be the third-highest cause of maternal deaths in India.
  • At present, women seeking to terminate the pregnancy beyond 20 weeks have to face the huge legal recourse which leads to denying the reproductive rights of women.
  • Obstetricians say that places providing unsafe abortion services, even leading to the death of the mother.
  • The original law states that, if a minor wants to terminate her pregnancy, written consent from the guardian is required. The proposed law has excluded this provision.

Reason for the delay of the Amendment?

According to Section 3 (2) of the MTP Act, 1971, abortion has to be terminated by a registered medical practitioner.

If the length of the pregnancy exceeds twelve weeks but does not exceed twenty weeks and abortion is needed, not less than two registered medical practitioners should have the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman (her physical or mental health); or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from some physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped. This delays the decision-making process for termination of pregnancy.

But the MTP Act, 1971 was said to be failed to keep pace with advances in medical technology that allow for the removal of a foetus at a relatively advanced state of pregnancy.

What are the proposed features of the bill

  • For termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation the opinion of one registered medical practitioner will be required, and for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation opinion of two registered medical practitioners will be required.
  • Extending the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women which includes vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently abled women, minors) etc.
  • Upper gestation limit not to apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by Medical Board. The composition, functions and other details of Medical Board to be prescribed subsequently in Rules under the Act.
  • Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorized in any law for the time being in force.
  • The original law states that, if a minor wants to terminate her pregnancy, written consent from the guardian is required. The proposed law has excluded this provision.
  • The Bill applies to unmarried women that relaxes one of the regressive clauses of the 1971 Act, i.e., single women could not cite contraceptive failure as a reason for seeking an abortion.

What are the benefits of the Amendment

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    • The original law states that, if a minor wants to terminate her pregnancy, written consent from the guardian is required. The proposed law has excluded this provision. This extension would allow termination of pregnancy in cases where some anomaly in the foetus is reported after 20 weeks.
    • The law will help the rape victims, ill and under-age women to terminate the unwanted pregnancy lawfully.

    Concerns over the Amendment

    • Late termination of pregnancy may get in conflict with the viability of the foetus that implies the period from which a foetus is capable of living outside the womb.
    • The preference for a male child in the country keeps sex determination centres in business in spite of their illegal status. There are concerns that a more liberal abortion law can aggravate this state-of-affairs.

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