Abortion: An Account of Struggle
This article is written by Rudrakshi Sharma and in this article, she explained the facts, rules, and regulations related to Abortion in India.
Leo Tolstoy said, “Ignorance cannot lead to evil; Misconceptions lead to evil”. Abortion in India is often wrongly linked with Female foeticide and that is the prime reason why we are so disregarded towards reproductive rights of women. We should make sure to understand the thin line of differentiation between the two concepts, to bring out individual solutions and deal accurately. Until 1970, Abortion was a criminal offense in India and was dubbed as “causing miscarriage”.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act
After abortion being legalized in 15 countries, in 1964, Shantilal Shah Committee was formed. The committee submitted a report on December 30, 1966, recommending rules on abortion to be regulated in India. August 10, 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was passed.
The act gave definitions of terms related to abortion, gave powers to the government to make rules, set time limits in which pregnancies can be terminated by medical practitioners, and stated places where the process of abortion could take place.
December 18, 2002, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act was passed which brought the following changes to the existing act:
- The word “mentally ill person” will be used in place of “lunatic”. Also gives the definition of the term “mentally ill person”.
- Stated the places where termination of pregnancies can take place according to this Act.
In 2003, MTP rules were formulated which gave women better access, especially in the private health sector.
Reliable information on the total times of induced abortion in India is insufficient. Official statistics and national surveys provide incomplete coverage. According to the national study an estimated 15.6 million abortions were performed in the country in 2015.
The study published in The Lancet Global Health. It also shows that majority of abortions were taken place using medical methods of abortion, or MMA. 14% of abortions were done surgically, and 5% of abortions were performed outside of health facilities using other, mostly unsafe methods.
Another set of amendments were suggested in 2014 after National Commission for women recommended an increase in the gestation period limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, irrespective of the woman’s marital status.
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Major amendments recommended were:
- Increasing the availability of medical practitioners by including local health workers after certain qualifications.
- Pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks can now be terminated without the consent of a medical practitioner.
- In case of pregnancies exceeding 12 weeks but not 24 weeks consent of only one medical practitioner was assumed sufficient so that women can get more rights.
- Under the contraceptive failure case the word “married women” was replaced to “all women” in order to help unmarried women to access safe abortion.
The bill was challenged by Indian Medical Association (IMA) questioning the large provider base. These amendments could have changed the face of Abortion laws in India but were never introduced in parliament. MTP Amendment bill 2017 was presented in Rajya Sabha and MTP Amendment bill 2018 was introduced in Lok Sabha with the same demand but with the addition of extension to 27 weeks in case of rape survivors.
But the demand somehow had fallen on deaf ears. In December Shashi Tharoor presented Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstruating Rights Bill which also said that there is no need to have consent of medical practitioner in case of pregnancies not exceeding 12 weeks but the bill did not tamper with the gestation period limit of 20 weeks.
The loopholes of Abortion laws had now entered the conscience of public. After countless cases being reported, in 2019 there were number of petitions filed to increase the conception period to 24 weeks. Swati Agarwal, Garima Sekseria and Prachi Vats filed a petition in Supreme Court stating that advancements in science and technology has made it possible to terminate pregnancies at later stages.
It also asked to amend Section3(2)(a) of MTP Act on grounds that it violates Article 14 to 21 of the constitution. Another PIL was filed by Amit Sahani in Delhi High Court with the same demand in response to which it issued a notice in plea to the Centre asking to extend the duration of medical termination of pregnancies by 4-6weeks in case of health threat to mother or foetus.
Madras High Court issues notice to central as well as state government seeking their response, stating that it is a matter of urgency. Union Health Ministry in response to Amit Sahani PIL submitted an affidavit stating that MTP Amendment Bill 2019 has been sent for inter-ministerial discussion. Meanwhile, Supreme court issues notice to Centre seeking its response to the PIL filed by Swati Agarwal, Garima Sekseria and Prachi Vats.
Medical Termination of Pregnancies (Amendment) Bill 2020
Long awaited Medical Termination of Pregnancies (Amendment) Bill 2020 was passed by Lok Sabha on march 17, 2020. The bill brings following changes in the existing MTP Act 1971:
- It extends the upper limit of gestation period of termination of pregnancy to 24 weeks for a certain category of women. These categories will be further classified by introducing rules which will be made by the government.
- It regulates the conditions in which abortion can take place.
- The bill allows abortion on advice of one doctor for 20 weeks and on advice of two doctors for 20-24 weeks for certain categories of woman.
- It sets up state level medical boards to decide if pregnancy needs to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial foetus abnormalities.
- This bill allows unmarried women too to terminate their pregnancy within 20 weeks due to failure of contraceptive method or device.
- The identity of a woman who under goes a termination of pregnancy can be only revealed to a person authorised by law. Violation is punishable with imprisonment of one year, or fine, or both.
The bill itself is a turning point but still welcomes criticism on the following aspects:
- The bill does not specify the time frame for Medical Board’s decision.
- Women who can terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks is not yet defined.
- The bill stays quiet if transgender persons will be covered under the ambit of it.
- Unavailability of qualified medical professionals to terminate pregnancies as the Act allows only gynaecologist, paediatrician and other obstetricians.
We as a country have to pay heed to the need of hour. Even after more than 48 years the issue of Abortion laws stands unsolved. We have to understand that it is not necessary to bring in religion, common hatred, society unapproved topics and misconception to each and every issue. The more we delay more the problem rises.
Giving birth and being a mother had always been and will always be the most beautiful experience but what makes it beautiful is the peace of mind and it cannot make abortion less important but, on the contrary, adds on to its significance.
It is not necessary that every issue in India has to be stretched for years to bring justice, some issues need regulations right from the basics. Politics, religion, customs, traditions are all significant but not more than humanity. Afterall, Justice delayed is Justice denied.
 Shantilal Shah Committee Report
 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act,2002
 The Lancet Global Health
 Women’s Sexual, Reproductive and Menstruating Rights Bill, 2018
 Section3(2)(a), Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2020