Union Cabinet approves amendment to increase the limit of termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]N a significant decision, the Union Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi today approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 in order to increases limit on termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks with an aim at discouraging informal termination of pregnancies and reducing maternal mortality rate.

As per the existing Act, a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twelve weeks if such medical practitioner is of opinion, formed in good faith, that, – (i) the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury physical or mental health; or (ii) there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped. In case, the length of the pregnancy exceeds twelve weeks but does not exceed twenty weeks, not less than two registered medical practitioners should be of the same opinion.

Now the proposed amendment for the first time provides for the requirement of the opinion of only one provider (medical practitioner) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation. In case of the pregnancy of 20 to 24 weeks, the proposed amendment provides for the requirement of the opinion of two providers for termination of pregnancy.

It may be noted that enhancing of upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks would be for special categories of women which will be defined in the amendments to the MTP Rules and would include ‘vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, Minors) etc. Upper gestation limit not to apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by Medical Board. The composition, functions and other details of Medical Board to be prescribed subsequently in Rules under the Act.

As per the government’s press release, 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.

The Central Government has said “the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is for expanding access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds. The proposed amendments includes substitution of certain sub-sections, insertion of certain new clauses under some sections in the existing Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, with a view to increase upper gestation limit for termination of pregnancy under certain conditions and to strengthen access to comprehensive abortion care, under strict conditions, without compromising service and quality of safe abortion”.

It adds, “it is a step towards safety and well-being of the women and many women will be benefitted by this. Recently several petitions were received by the Courts seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at a gestational age beyond the present permissible limit on grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence faced by women. The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate the pregnancy”.

The proposed amendment bill will be introduced in the ensuing budget session commencing from January 31.