Abortion Law in India

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    • Recently, the Delhi and Bombay High Courts, in separate orders, have allowed exemptions beyond what is laid down in MTP Act.

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    • Delhi High Court order:
      • Delhi High Court has allowed a minor who had been raped to terminate her 25-week pregnancy, and framed guidelines for officers investigating cases of rape and sexual assault where the pregnancy exceeds 24 weeks.
    • Bombay High Court order:
      • Bombay High Court on recently went a step further and allowed the termination of a 33-week-old pregnancy on account of severe abnormalities in the foetus.
        • The court also went against the recommendations of the government hospital’s medical board which had warned against aborting.
        • The court reasoned that doing so would condemn the foetus to a substandard life and force a “traumatic parenthood” on the petitioner’s family.
    • MTP Act guidelines:
      • In doing so, both the High Courts have exceeded the 24 weeks’ upper limit in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021.

    Salient features of the “Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 2021”:

    • Abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy:
      • Terminating a pregnancy up to 20 weeks will only require the medical advice of one doctor.
    • Abortions upto or beyond 24 of pregnancy:
      • Abortion is legal for women in certain circumstances up to 24 weeks.
      • It would include:
        •  Survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, minors) etc.
      • Opinion of 2 providers is required for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
      • A state-level medical board will be set up to decide: 
        • If pregnancy may be terminated beyond 20 months till 24 months.
        • Such a decision can be taken by the medical board only after 
          • due consideration and 
          • ensuring that the procedure would be safe for the woman.
          • The time frame available to the Medical Board is 3 days.
      • The upper gestation limit does not apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by the Medical Board
    • Anonymity: 
      • Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised in any law for the time being in force.
    • Marital and age criteria:
      • Unmarried women can also access abortion under the above-mentioned conditions because it does not mention the requirement of spousal consent. 
      • If the woman is a minor, however, the consent of a guardian is required.
    • Intentionally causing a miscarriage:
      • Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code holds intentionally causing a miscarriage as a criminal offence.

    Significance of the MTP Act

    • Constitutional right:
      • The reproductive choice is personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian constitution.
    • Reproductive Rights of a Woman: 
      • The laws provide greater reproductive rights and dignity to women as abortion is considered an important aspect of the reproductive health of women.
    • Right to Privacy: 
      • The rape victims and vulnerable victims are also benefitted from Privacy Clause.
    • Encouragement to Safe Abortion: 
      • Deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are largely preventable provided services are performed legally by trained practitioners.
      • The procedures are performed under proper medical and surgical supervision if done in the hospital setting. 
      • If termination pills are taken at home, it must be under medical supervision and follow up.

    Criticisms:

    • No Personal Choice: 
      • The boards are unnecessary and an invasion of privacy of the pregnant women which pushes the laborious process a woman had to undergo in order to get an abortion.
      • As the law does not permit abortion at will, critics say that it pushes women to access illicit abortions under unsafe conditions.
    • Increase in Gestational limit only in certain cases: 
      • It enhances the gestational limit for legal abortion from 20 to 24 weeks only for specific categories of women.
      • A woman who does not fall into these categories would not be able to seek an abortion beyond 20 weeks.
    • Shortage of medical staff:
      • According to a 2018 study in the Lancet, 15.6 million abortions were accessed every year in India as of 2015. 
      • The Act requires abortion to be performed only by doctors with specialisation in gynaecology or obstetrics. 
      • However, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s 2019-20 report on Rural Health Statistics indicates that there is a 70% shortage of obstetrician-gynaecologists in rural India.

    Abortion laws around the world:

    • Abortions are either banned entirely or permitted with certain restrictions in place. 
    • Very often limits are placed on when an abortion is permitted, generally around gestational time limits. 
    • Countries that have altogether banned abortions:
      • Abortions are illegal in 24 countries, where about 90 million or 5 percent of women of reproductive age reside.
        • These include Senegal, Mauritania, and Egypt in Africa, Laos and the Philippines in Asia, El Salvador and Honduras in Central America, and Poland and Malta in Europe.
        • As per the hardline laws in some of these countries, women are imprisoned for getting abortions.
    • Countries that permit abortions, but with significant restrictions:
      • Around 50 countries — including Libya, Indonesia, Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela — permit abortions if a woman’s health is at risk. 
      • Several others allow it in cases of rape, incest or foetal abnormality.
    • Countries where abortions are more easily accessible:
      • In Canada, Australia and much of Europe there are few restrictions other than gestational limits.
      • Most European countries permit abortions within gestational time limits, which most commonly is about 12-14 weeks.