Moving to ease abortion laws in the country, the Union Cabinet is set to consider a host of changes to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 to increase the upper limit for termination of a pregnancy from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, and extending the contraceptive-failure clause for termination to include “any woman or her partner” from the present provision for “only married woman or her husband”.
Sources said the draft MTP Bill has been circulated by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Cabinet has to take a decision on its approval.
The present abortion law, which is about five decades old, permits abortion up to a maximum foetal gestation period of 20 weeks. Section 3 (2) of the MTP Act, 1971 states “a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner, (a) where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks, if such medical practitioner is, or (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, of opinion. 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 there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped.”
In recent years, there have been strong demands to raise the foetal gestation period for abortion beyond 20 weeks.
Sources said the draft Bill proposes requirement of opinion of one registered medical practitioner (RMP) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation. Similarly, it also provides for the requirement of opinion of two RMPs for termination of pregnancy of 20 to 24 weeks.
The Bill also seeks to increase the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women. “It will also include minor girls,” sources said.
For unmarried women, the Bill seeks to relax the contraceptive-failure condition for “any woman or her partner” from the present provision for “only married woman or her husband”, allowing them to medically terminate the pregnancy.
Sources said the changes in law were proposed after an extensive consultation process with experts representing a range of stakeholders from central and state governments, NGOs, academic institutions, professional bodies and associations like Indian Medical Association, Indian Nursing Council and legal professionals.
The move to amend the MTP Act, 1971, sources said, is a progressive step towards empowerment of women. It will provide greater reproductive rights to women as abortion is considered an important aspect of the reproductive health of women. Deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are largely preventable provided services are performed legally by trained practitioners.
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