Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Bill

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  • MTP was passed by both the Houses of the Parliament and received the assent of the President of India on 10th August, 1971.
  • It came on the Statute Book as the “The MTP Act, 1971“.
  • This law guarantees the Right of Women in India to terminate an unintended pregnancy by a listed medical practitioner in a hospital established or maintained by the Government or a place being approved for the purpose of this Act by the Government. Not all pregnancies could be terminated.
  • The MTP Act also overrides IPC Section 312 which states that, whoever voluntarily causes a woman with child to miscarry be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • Or if the woman be quick with child, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to seven years, and shall also be liable to fine.
  • The Act allows a woman to get an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, provided a registered medical practitioner diagnoses grave danger to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health.
  • If the foetus is between 12 and 20 weeks old, then the procedure requires permission from two medical practitioners

Section 3 of MTP ACT

  • As a health measure when there is danger to the life or risk to physical or mental health of the women;
  • On humanitarian grounds such as when pregnancy arises from a sex crime like rape or intercourse with a lunatic woman, etc. and
  • Eugenic grounds – where there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer from deformities and diseases.

Should MTP law be amended?

  • Legal and medical specialists feel that amendment of the legal limit for abortion is long overdue.
  • Foetal abnormalities show up only by 18 weeks, so just a two-week window after that is too small for the would-be parents to take the difficult call on whether to keep their baby and for the medical practitioner to exhaust all possible options before advising the patient to take the extreme step.
  • The rising incidence of sex crimes and the urgent need to empower women with sexual rights and choices both in their own interest and for the sake of reducing the fertility rate as a whole, have made it imperative that the law be changed.
  • Also, since lack of legal approval does not avert abortions from being carried out beyond 20 weeks, women are put under risk since the abortions then are often conducted in shady, unhygienic conditions by untrained, unqualified quacks.

Law challenged post 20 weeks of pregnancy

In July 2016, Thane, Mumbai, the top court allowed a woman to undergo abortion in her 24th week of pregnancy at Dr RN Cooper hospital in Vile Parle, Mumbai, granting her the benefit under Section 5 of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, that allows abortion despite the 20-week ceiling.

  • In 2008, Haresh and Niketa Mehta petitioned Bombay High Court to allow them to abort their 26-week-old foetus, who had been diagnosed with a heart defect. For the first time, the national medical narrative took note of the fact that with the advent of medical technology, pre-natal diagnosis of defects had come a long way and some defects could be revealed after 20 weeks has passed. The Mehtas’ plea was turned down on expert advice. But the court’s observation that only the legislature could address the demand for change in the legal limit meant that India started the process of re-evaluating provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. Niketa, incidentally, had a miscarriage soon after the verdict.
  • In 2015, a 14-year-old rape victim from Gujarat sought and received permission from the Supreme Court to abort after the 20 weeks’ deadline had passed. Her petition was treated as a “special case”, meaning it could not be used as a precedent to grant permission in another case.
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