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The High Court of Delhi established precedence by permitting termination of 25-week foetus diagnosed with congenital anomaly. The Hon’ble court enunciated that “rigours of section 3(2) can be relaxed where the conditions of foetus is incompatible with life”.
MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) Act, 1971 is the statutory law that governs the termination of pregnancy. With another court granting permission to terminate post 20-week foetus, the long-drawn debate over the much-needed amendment in the MTP Act has once again become the bone of contention.
In the light of the precedence established by Delhi Court, this post will attempt to briefly explain the MTP act and enunciate the loopholes of this 48 old law on termination of pregnancy.
What exactly does the MTP Act say?
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in the year 1971 in the light of rising frequency and maternal deaths due to lack of proper amenities. MTP regulates the abortion provisions. Some of the hallmarks of MTP act are:
- A doctor can perform abortion if the pregnancy is harmful to pregnant woman’s life or mental health. Or if there is good chance that delivery of the child would seriously affect her mental and physical being.
- Pregnancy can be terminated by medical practitioner: (a) where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed 12-weeks (b) where the length of the pregnancy exceeds 12-weeks but does not exceed 20-weeks, only in special circumstances.
- Pregnancy may be terminated in a hospital established or maintained by government, or a place approved by the government.
What are the problems with this law?
To begin with, this Act puts a bar on termination of pregnancy transcending 20 weeks. The reason behind this was that it was medically dangerous at that time (in 1971) to terminate pregnancy beyond that maturity period. However, medical facilities have advanced significantly since then and now it is possible to have safe termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks.
Also, this act offends the feminist perspective by allowing healthcare providers to have the final say on abortion instead of the concerned woman herself. It creates an environment where women feel like being at the mercy of their healthcare providers.
What is the current status of this law?
In 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare released a draft of the MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2014. It proposes changes that could initiate a shift in the focus of the Indian abortion discourse from healthcare providers to women. The Bill also expands the base of healthcare providers by including mid-level and non-allopathic healthcare providers.
Additionally, the clause extending the gestational limit could trigger ethical debates on eugenic abortions and sex-selective abortions. Stated simply, it means that this bill seeks to address the shortcomings of the previous law by empowering women to take decision about the termination of her pregnancy even beyond 20 weeks. This bill must be enacted soon.
The High Court of Delhi has given a progressive judgement and reiterated the need for amendment in the MTP Act. The said law is outdated as explained above. The government has taken a positive step by proposing an amendment in the law. We hope to see the realization of this amendment soon.