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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Parliament passes Bill allowing termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks instead of 20 weeks; the highlights

Currently, termination of a pregnancy requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 18, 2021 7:50:28 pm
Selective abortion in India may lead to 6.8 million fewer girls being born by 2030: StudyFor a pregnancy to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial foetal abnormalities, the opinion of the state-level medical board is essential.

The Rajya Sabha has passed a Bill to increase the upper limit for allowing abortions — from 20 weeks to 24 weeks of pregnancy — for certain “special categories of women”, even as the Opposition demanded that it be sent to a select committee for further scrutiny. Introducing the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, on Tuesday, Vardhan told the House that extensive consultations were held before the Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha and it was also approved by the Ethics Committee and a Group of Ministers headed by Nitin Gadkari. He said the Bill is a step towards safety and well-being of a woman and it will enlarge the ambit and access of women to safe and legal abortion without compromising on safety and quality of care, and will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate pregnancy.

Here are the highlights of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

# The Bill allows abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy for certain “special categories of women” which will be defined by the states in the amendments to the MTP rules. These categories will include ‘vulnerable women’ including rape survivors, victims of incest, those with disabilities and minors. The bill also ensures that women get access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian grounds.

# As per the amended Bill, opinion of one doctor will be required for termination of pregnancy till 20 weeks while opinion of two doctors will be needed for aborting from 20 to 24 weeks. Both the doctors have to be of the opinion that continuing with the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or can cause grave injury to her mental or physical health; or that there is a substantial risk that the child after its birth would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality. Currently, termination of a pregnancy requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.

# For a pregnancy to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial foetal abnormalities, the opinion of the state-level medical board is essential.

# The Medical Board will include (i) a gynaecologist, (ii) a paediatrician, (iii) a radiologist or sonologist, and (iv) other members, as may be specified by the state government. Their functions and other details will be prescribed subsequently by the MTP Rules.

# The Bill also stipulates that the name and other details of the woman whose pregnancy is terminated will not be revealed, except to a person authorised in any law which is in force. Any person violating this provision will be punished with imprisonment which may extended to one year, or with fine, or both.

Opposition’s concerns

However, the Opposition MPs in the Rajya Sabha pointed out that the Bill still does not give women the freedom to decide, since she will need permission from a medical board in the case of pregnancies beyond 24 weeks and demanded the Bill be sent to a Parliamentary Select Committee for detailed scrutiny. However, their demand was defeated by a voice vote.

Some of the concerns raised by the Opposition are:

# While framing the Bill, inputs were not taken from those who are directly affected by the Bill

# While including the provision for establishment of Medical Board, the government did not consider the shortage of medical professionals in the country, especially in rural areas.

# In the absence of any time limit for Medical Board’s decisions, the concerned party may again have to approach the courts seeking expeditious disposal

# Anaesthetist and psychiatrist should also be included in the committee to address concerns surrounding administration of anaesthesia and mental well-being of the woman.

# Fast-track courts need to be set up to deal with the disputes arising under the Act.

# Those belonging to the transgender community should also be brought within the ambit of this Bill.

(With inputs from Live Law)

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