Raising Abortion Limit from 20 to 24 Weeks in India; Experts React

The cabinet approved extending the upper limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks.

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Health News
3 min read
The urgent need for amendment of the MTP Act, is to make it relevant for the 21st century.
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(The Rajya Sabha is expected to consider amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, on Tuesday, 2 February, which include, among other things, raising the upper limit for legal termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks. FIT is republishing this explainer in that light.)

The cabinet has approved changes to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act which seek to raise the abortion limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, said Union Minister Prakash Javadekar.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill will be tabled in the ensuing Parliament session. Currently, the law in place is from 1971 but medical technologies today have made it possible to identify chromosomal abnormalities in a fetus even in the later stages. The amendments were lying with various governments for a while.

According to PTI, Javadekar said that this will ensure safe termination of pregnancies, give women reproductive rights over their bodies and reduce the maternal mortality rate.

Acknowledging the issues with the current limit, he said,

“This is important because in first five months, there are cases where the girl concerned doesn’t realise and has to go to court. This was discussed with the various stakeholders.”
Union Minister Prakash Javadekar

Experts React to the Development

Abortion has been legal in India for 48 years now since the MTP Act came about in 1971, but it is yet to become a woman’s right.

Dr Noser Shariar is a gynaecologist based out of Mumbai, and a prominent pro-women voice when it comes to reproductive rights. Speaking to FIT, he says, “This is wonderful news. Although, 10 years ago, we had asked for extending the abortion limit to 28 weeks. The MTP amendment bill 2014 still talks of 24 weeks.”

“The reason we are seeking 28 weeks is that medical technology has made it possible to detect birth defects upto 28 weeks - and a woman should have the right to terminate at any stage she finds out about such defects.”
Dr Noser Shariar

He does welcome the move, considering the fact that India’s abortion Act is still one of the most progressive ones in the world. “24 weeks is ideal for vulnerable women, rape survivors and unmarried women - specially as is the case of adolescents, there is a tendency to hide and the shame and trauma linked to the pregnancy translate to late reporting.”

On the language of ‘reproductive rights of women’ used by the minister, he adds, “While I applaud the spirit of the language, we hope the spirit continues in how we frame the rules. If the rules require a committee to sit and decide a woman’s fate, then that spirit is lost. The future lies in the complete autonomy of the woman and abortion on demand.”

Dr Puneet Bedi is a gynecologist and obstetrician at Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi. He believes that the amendment was needed for cases where prenatal diagnosis of abnormality gets delayed. But the approach with which abortion is seen, even today, continues to be problematic.

“The minister has used a ‘preaching’ tone. Women are still being looked at as ‘victims’ who didn’t get to know of the abnormality on time. Until and unless the decision of abortion lies with a medical practitioner and not with a woman herself, the law will not be pro-choice and pro-rights.”
Dr Puneet Bedi

He adds, “As of today, we don’t know what the law will finally be. It needs to be acted, enforced and implemented. Failure of contraception is the loose clause that is used to allow an abortion. A truly progressive step would entail a law that lets a woman — regardless of her marital status, pregnancy stage or the state of the fetus — terminate her pregnancy by her own will.”

V S Chandrashekhar, Chief Executive Officer, FRHS India and CAG member, Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion, was of a similar view. He told FIT, “The proposed amendments were too minor to deserve any big celebration. Not only will the gestational limit for MTP be extended till 24 weeks only for certain categories of women, but there is also a provision that says that pregnancies with fetal abnormalities can be terminated only after being approved from medical boards. I find that hugely problematic!”

(With inputs from PTI)

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