Recently the Rajya Sabha has passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, 2021. The bill seeks to amend the Medical Termination of pregnancy act, 1971. The bill amends various provisions that were vague, derogatory and based on replaced medical principles. The bill has initiated debates on human rights including women’s rights as to her womb. The bill has been brought after numerous PILs in Supreme Court and various High Courts, and after considering the demand from the various NGOs and civil societies who work for women and human rights.
In a landmark case of 1973 the US Supreme Court held that a woman has the right as to her pregnancy and it comes under her basic right to live. Abortions are major challenge at present, around 10-13% of maternal deaths in India are caused because of unsafe abortions and practices of illegal abortions. Roughly around 7 women are losing their life daily because of such illegal and uncontrolled abortions. Not only deaths but women are also forced to face many challenges after the abortion as internal injuries, infertility, sepsis and sexual incompetency etc. Such problem has been addressed sincerely with the enactment of the new amending legislation on it.
Existing law on the medical termination
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was earlier existing legislation on the abortion. Prior to the same the termination of pregnancy was classified as an offence and was punishable under Indian Penal law. The voluntary termination of pregnancy was considered a criminal offence. The act in 1971 permitted the abortion in special circumstances as rape, danger for the life of mother etc. The act was passed with the objective of controlling the unwanted pregnancies and to protect the maternal health by reducing the mortality rate caused by the unsafe and illegal abortions.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was being criticized for its outdated medical concepts and rigidity on women rights. The act was not granting the women her right as to her womb and was denying her assent or willingness as to the abortion. The limit of 20 weeks that was ascertained by the existing act was also insufficient in dealing with the cases comprising the foetal issues or abnormalities. In case the deadline of 20 weeks the procedure for abortion was very harassing and tiring which was aiding in rise of illegal termination of pregnancies. Women were preferring to abort illegally than to follow the harsh procedures after 20 weeks. The limit of 20 weeks was based on the outdated concepts of medical science of the 1970s, which has been replaced by modern medical science concepts. The scientific developments including abortion pills and aspirations has led the procedure safer and extendable to later stages. The disability scan is even possible only in the 21st week of the pregnancy. The complex and frustrating process after the 20 weeks has led the woman to go for the illegal terminations of pregnancy and caused higher rate of unsafe abortion.
Features of the Bill
The amendment bill passed in year 2021, has brought many changes and advancement in the field of abortion with medical permission. The bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 02, 2020 and was passed on March 17, 2020. The statement of objects itself refers that the bill was enacted in the light of various cases filed and concerns that were raised on the question of termination of pregnancy and its deadline.
The bill allows abortion up to 24 weeks as compared to the earlier existing 20 weeks for vulnerable categories of women including the survivors of rape, differentially abled women, minor or victim of incest, however there is no any prescribed age limit for the gestational age in case of pregnancies with substantial foetal abnormality declared and certified by the medical board. The bill also seeks to provide women their right on their womb up to certain extent. There will be a need for only one provider for the termination within 20 weeks while opinions of two doctors will be required for the termination of pregnancy from gestation age 20 week to gestation age 24 weeks.
The bill also aims to respect the privacy of the women undergoing abortion as it provides that names and other particulars shall not be revealed to any person except legally authorise person. Even the bill provides the failure of contraceptive as a ground of abortion and extended it to the women and her partner. The bill provides for the safe and legal access to the women for pregnancy on the medical, social and humanitarian ground. It takes a step ahead for the well-being and advancement of the women health and their right to womb. It regulates the conditions under what or under which the pregnancy can be aborted. It establishes a medical board for regulating the pregnancy after the 24 weeks in case of substantial foetal abnormalities. The board will consist of a gynaecologist, paediatrician, radiologist/sinologist and other members notified by the state.
The major issue and the conflict which comes within the ambit of such law on the termination of pregnancy is different opinions on the same. Many people believe it to be the right of women to have the say on her pregnancy and on the termination of the same, while on the other hand it becomes the duty of the state to protect the life of the unborn foetus.
Challenges and the issues in the new bill
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, 2021 however is not the golden line in the same, it also lacks certain basic lacunas which can be a major obstruction sin attainment of its objective. The key lacking or the drawbacks of the act can be a major reason for its ineffectiveness. The bill provides the medical appointed under the act shall have the right to decide the termination of the pregnancy after 24 weeks then it has arisen a new channel or process to be followed which will again make such permissions complex and beyond the reach of many women. There is no time limit prescribed for the medical board to give their decision which will lead to the delay and improper implementation and execution. The categorisation of women under the bill has been given in the hand of executive, it would be irrational to deny the parliament and to give it in the hands of executives. The bill is silent on the issues of transgender and it also provides that abortion must be safe and by the qualified medical practitioner, since India is already facing 75% shortage of qualified doctors. In such a situation it will be mere promise to enact such provision as we lack the infrastructure in rural as well as in urban sectors.
Many countries in the world has legislations dealing with the abortion, in almost 97 countries of the world abortion has been legally regulated. The regulation varies state to state as regards to its social, religious and human rights development. In 2003 WHO gave wide guidelines on the technical and the policy guideline to help governments across the world. In many countries the gestation age has been determined up to 12 weeks. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, 2021 is a progressive legislation enacted by the parliament for regulation of the abortion and to promote the safe and legal abortion. The proper implementation of the act will definitely lessen the number of mortality rate of women and will set a rise in cases of safe and legal abortion.