As citizens of this country, it is not only important for us to be aware of the existing laws but also of any amendments/changes that are in the pipeline for amending current laws. 

This article will discuss one such amendment i.e. the amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. 

The Lok Sabha had on 17th march 2020 passed/approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020(‘the bill’),which is now pending before the Rajya Sabha for its approval. 

It is, therefore, important to analyse and understand what are the changes that are drawn up in the bill and what is going to be the impact of this bill on abortion rights, if it is passed in the Rajya Sabha and approved by the President. 

In our post Medical termination of pregnancy/ abortion is permissible under certain circumstances’, we have discussed the abortion law, as it stands today. 

In this article, we will analyse the changes brought out by the bill and its consequences. We suggest that you first read our post ‘Medical termination of pregnancy/ abortion is permissible under certain circumstances’ if you have not already read it, available on Medical termination of pregnancy/abortion is permissible under certain circumstances, to better understand this article.

In this article we will refer to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,1971 as ‘the act’.

Circumstances under which abortion is allowed

As per the bill, abortion is permissible under the following circumstances – 

  1. Where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed twenty weeks (as opposed to the pregnancy length of twelve weeks provided in the act) and if the medical practitioner is of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve any of the following- 
    • A risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or
    • A risk of grave injury to physical or mental health; or 
    • there is a substantial risk that if a child is born out of the pregnancy, such child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities.

It is pertinent to note that the act provides that pregnancy can be terminated if there is a substantial risk that the child born out of the pregnancy would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities which render him/ her seriously handicapped. However, as per the bill, if such child would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities, that in itself would be sufficient to get the foetus aborted. It is not required to prove that the physical or mental abnormalities would render him/her to be seriously handicapped.

 This indeed is a provision that will make lives of so many women easier. All of us must have witnessed few children around us having mental or physical abnormalities and their parents taking extra care of them because they could not have aborted them even if they wished to because the law did not permit abortion unless such abnormalities render the child ‘seriously handicapped’. This provision will definitely ease the mothers who want to abort a foetus to avoid a child born with physical or mental abnormalities. Although, it is purely a personal decision to make and many parents would want to give birth to a child having abnormalities, which is totally fine. 

  1. Where the length of the pregnancy ranges between twenty weeks to twenty four weeks in case of such category of woman as may be prescribed by rules made under this Act and two or more than two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve 
    • A risk to the life of the pregnant woman; or 
    • A risk of grave injury to physical or mental health ; or 
    • There is a substantial risk that the child born out of the pregnancy would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities.

It is pertinent to note that the bill increases the pregnancy length to twenty four weeks which was earlier only twenty weeks. If the bill is approved, women whose pregnancy length ranges between twenty to twenty four weeks can undergo abortion, but this extension comes with a rule, which provides that not all women will be allowed to abort. The categories of women who will be allowed to abort will be prescribed under the rules which will majorly include vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, Minors) etc.

Further, as discussed above, substantial risk of physical or mental abnormalities in a child would be enough to abort a foetus and it would don’t be necessary that such physical and mental abnormalities render him seriously handicapped. 

Injury to mental health – interpretation 

The bill has amended the interpretation of ‘injury to mental health’ to some extent in so far as unmarried woman are concerned and has also distinguished between what would be ‘injury to mental health’ of a woman whose pregnancy length in not more than twenty weeks and a woman whose pregnancy length ranges between twenty to twenty four weeks. 

  1. A woman whose pregnancy length is not more than twenty weeks can get her foetus aborted citing the risk of injury to mental health, where-
    • Any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children or preventing pregnancy, the anguish caused by such pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. 

Abortion for unmarried women – This provision aims at removing the obstacles that single unmarried woman face under the act. As per the bill even single women can get their foetus aborted in case of failure of protection devises/methods if the pregnancy length is not more than twenty weeks. As per the act, an unmarried woman could abort her foetus only if there was a risk to her physical health or mental health (excluding the trauma caused due to unwanted pregnancy) or a risk that the child born out of such pregnancy would have abnormalities that render him seriously handicapped. The bill, if it is approved, will definitely be a stepping stone in removing the stigma associated with pre-marriage pregnancy in our country and unmarried women will be able to get their foetus aborted if it is an unwanted pregnancy. 

    • Any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by the pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. 
  1. A woman whose pregnancy length ranges between twenty to twenty four weeks can get her foetus aborted citing a risk of injury to mental health only if the pregnancy is alleged to have been caused by rape. 

It is therefore, clear that once a pregnant lady  (whether married or unmarried) crosses the pregnancy length of twenty weeks, the aforesaid reason i.e. failure of protection measures is no longer available for her to get her foetus aborted. 

When pregnancy length is more than twenty four weeks

The bill provides an exception for termination of pregnancy of a woman whose pregnancy length exceeds twenty four weeks if such termination is necessitated by the diagnosis of any of the substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by a Medical Board. 

Protection of privacy of a woman 

The bill provides that a registered medical practitioner shall not reveal the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated. The medical practitioner can only reveal it to a person authorised by law. 

If any medical practitioner reveals the name, details etc, he/she will be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both. 

This provision is indeed a welcome provision to protect personal life of a person and save it from societal judgments. 

Conclusion

The bill, indeed, is a step ahead in promoting abortion rights and removing the social stigma attached with abortion of foetus by single woman, at the same time making woman’s right to privacy an important deal. 

The bill, if approved, will surely bring positive changes in the society. We shall keep you posted about the same.