The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 was introduced by the Ministry of Health and family welfare. It was introduced in the Lok Sabha on March 2, 2020, it was passed by Lok Sabha on March 17th, 2020, and has also been passed by the Rajya Sabha recently.
The key highlights of the bill include that this act has been known to regulate the various conditions under which a pregnancy can be aborted, the medical termination of the pregnancy (amendment) bill, 2020 has increased the time within which the abortion is expected or may be carried out.
In the current scenario, an abortion requires an opinion by a doctor, that is when the abortion is being done within a span of 12 weeks of contraception, and this process further requires 2 doctors if it is being done between 12 to 20 weeks.
The new bill which is being introduced allows abortion to be done on the advice of only one doctor for up to 20 weeks and 2 doctors in some of the cases of certain categories of women between 20 to 24 weeks.
Another advantage of this bill is that it has been known to set up various state-level medical boards, these medical boards are responsible for deciding whether pregnancy may be terminated after a span of around 24 weeks if there is a case of a substantial foetal abnormality.
People have various opinions about this bill, and the opinions differ with regard to allowing abortion and not. Some people are of the view that the termination of a pregnancy is a personal choice, and the decision lies in the hands of the woman and it is a personal issue, and as terminating a pregnancy is the choice of the pregnant woman, this also forms a part of her reproductive rights and is her personal choice. However, another view of thought is that the state has an obligation to protect the life, and hence the state must take necessary steps for the protection of the foetus. This topic has been widely discussed in other countries, and the countries have set various conditions and time limits for allowing abortion.
These decisions, conditions, and time limits which have been set across the world depend on various factors, the factors are based on the foetal health and the risk which is subjected to the pregnant woman.
Various writ petitions have been filed by various women who have asked for permission to abort pregnancies which are beyond 20 weeks, this is majorly due to some foetal abnormalities or due to the cases of rape. The current bill has allowed abortion even after 24 weeks but, it is only in cases when a medical diagnosis takes place by the medical board and diagnosis a substantial foetal abnormality. This state states that if there is a case that requires abortion that happens due to rape and exceeds the time limit of 24 weeks the only recourse and the option is through the medium of a writ petition.
It should also be noted that this bill has not specified the category of women who are to terminate their pregnancies between 20 to 24 weeks. It has been argued that these matters must be specified duly by the parliament and not dedicated in the hands of the government.
The medical termination of pregnancy (amendment) bill, 2020 requires abortion to be specifically performed only by the doctors who hold a specialization in gynaecology or obstetrics.
In India, voluntary termination of pregnancy comes under the purview of a criminal offense under the Indian Penal Code, as a result, the medical termination of pregnancy act 1971 was enacted as an exception to this provision of the Indian Penal Code and to provide for the termination of some of the pregnancies by the medical practitioners who are registered. The recent bill is amending the act and increasing the upper limit for the termination from 20 to 24 weeks for a certain category of women, and it is also known to remove this limit in case of substantial foetal abnormalities.
The medical board gets to decide termination only in certain cases, various writ petitions have been filed seeking permission to abort pregnancies which go beyond the time limit of 20 weeks, these are majorly in the cases of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies which happen due to rape which is faced by women. The recent bill allows for termination of pregnancy even after the time limit of 24 weeks in some cases only when a medical board successfully diagnoses substantial foetal abnormality. This also means that if a woman has faced rape and has crossed the time limit of 24 weeks, then there is no change in the process and the only recourse is through the medium of a writ petition.
Another concern is that the time frame for the medical board decision has not been duly specified, the bill has allowed for the termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks but it is best solely on the opinion of the medical board. The bill has not provided a definite time frame within which the medical board is allowed to make the decision, and as pregnancy is a time-sensitive matter and if there is a delay by the medical board it may result in complications for the pregnant women, hence a time frame must be decided for the medical board decision.
Another major concern is that it is unclear whether transgender people would be covered under this bill, another concern is the unavailability of qualified medical professionals who are required to terminate such pregnancies. The object of the bill is that it focuses on increasing a woman's access to safe abortion and reduce maternal mortality which is caused by unsafe abortions, there is a shortage of qualified medical professionals, and hence various qualified medical professionals are required so that women do not face complications.