Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 by VANSHIKA TAINWALA AT LEXCLIQ

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 alters the MTPA 1971 to raise the upper limit for abortion from 20 to 24 weeks for certain types of women. The Amendment raises the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for particular groups of women, which would be described in the MTPA 2021 and would include rape survivors, incest victims, and other vulnerable women (such as differently-abled women, minors), among others.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 (MTPA 2021) was approved on 16th of March, 2021 thereby amending the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTPA 1971). The Act in general governs when and how a pregnancy can be terminated. The bill extends the time frame for abortion. This amendment is a welcome step towards the safety and well-being of the women in the country. There were several petitions which have been recently filed in the courts asking for authority to abort unwanted pregnancies at a gestational age beyond the current permissible limit due to foetal abnormalities or pregnancies caused by sexual assault. The amendments aim to broaden the scope of safe abortion services available to women and ensure their dignity, autonomy, secrecy, and justice for women who need to end their pregnancy.

Some of the key takeaways of the amendment in a nutshell are:

  • Raising the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for particular groups of women, which would be described in the MTPA 2021 and would include rape survivors, incest victims, and other vulnerable women (such as differently-abled women, minors), among others.
  • If an abortion is performed within 12 weeks of conception, one doctor’s opinion is required; if the abortion is performed between 12 and 20 weeks, two doctors’ opinions are required.
  • The bill enables abortion on the recommendations of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors between 20 and 24 weeks for specific categories of women.

Is Terminating a Pregnancy a Criminal Offence in India?

Voluntarily terminating a pregnancy is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (IPC). The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 authorises medical doctors (with specific specialisation) to abort a pregnancy on certain grounds. A pregnancy can be terminated at any time up to 12 weeks if one doctor agrees, and up to 20 weeks if two doctors agree. Only where the pregnancy’s continuation will endanger the pregnant woman’s life, cause grave harm to her mental or physical health (including rape and refusal to utilise birth control), or result in foetal abnormalities is it permissible to terminate the pregnancy. Termination is also permitted at any time during the pregnancy if it is necessary to save the life of the woman concerned.

It alters the MTPA 1971 to raise the upper limit for abortion from 20 to 24 weeks for certain types of women, removes the limit in cases of significant foetal abnormalities, and establishes state-level Medical Boards. According to the Bill’s Statement of Objects and Reasons, multiple cases have been brought in the Supreme Court and different High Courts requesting authorization to terminate pregnancies at stages beyond the Act’s 20-week restriction on the basis of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies in cases of rape. It also adds that as medical technology advances, the maximum limit for terminating pregnancies may be raised, particularly for vulnerable women and in situations of severe foetal abnormalities.

Grounds for Terminating a Pregnancy:

In general, there are two opposing viewpoints on the legalisation of abortions. According to one viewpoint, terminating a pregnancy is the pregnant woman’s option and a part of her reproductive rights. The alternative viewpoint is that the state has a commitment to safeguard life and, as a result, the foetus should be protected. Depending on considerations such as foetal viability (the point at which the foetus can live outside the womb), foetal abnormalities, or harm to the pregnant mother, various countries across the globe have imposed varied requirements and time restrictions for legalising abortions.

In India, The MTPA 1971, was created as an exemption to the IPC to allow certified medical practitioners to terminate certain pregnancies. The Bill does not identify which women are eligible to terminate pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks and instead leaves it to be determined by rules. Such topics, it may be claimed, should be specified by Parliament rather than delegated to the executive.

A married woman may terminate a pregnancy up to 20 weeks after the failure of a contraceptive technique or device under the Act. Unmarried women can also terminate a pregnancy for this reason under the Bill.

Powers of the Medical Board:

A Medical Board will be formed by all state and union territory administrations. The Board will decide whether or not a pregnancy can be ended beyond 24 weeks owing to significant foetal abnormalities. The state government will appoint a gynaecologist, paediatrician, radiologist/sonologist, and other members to each Board.

-Vanshika Tainwala

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