In­dia’s abor­tion law is hu­mane

Alive - - Contents - by Dr P.H. Reddy

Well­be­ing of preg­nant women and un­born chil­dren is the supreme con­cern of the cur­rent leg­is­la­tion.

In­dia is one of the coun­tries which le­galised abor­tion early. In 1971, In­dian Par­lia­ment passed Med­i­cal Ter­mi­na­tion Of Preg­nancy Act le­gal­is­ing abor­tion of cer­tain preg­nan­cies.

Med­i­cal ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy (MTP) is a more hu­mane term for abor­tion. Nowhere in the en­tire Act is the term “abor­tion” men­tioned. It is al­ways called med­i­cal ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy or sim­ply preg­nancy ter­mi­na­tion.

The MTP Act has a man­i­fest and a la­tent ob­jec­tive. The man­i­fest ob­jec­tive is to ter­mi­nate preg­nancy if it in­volves risk to the life of the preg­nant woman or grave in­jury to her phys­i­cal or men­tal health or if there is sub­stan­tial risk that if the child were born, it would suf­fer from such phys­i­cal or men­tal ab­nor­mal­i­ties as to be se­ri­ously hand­i­capped.

The la­tent ob­jec­tive is to re­duce the num­ber of live births and con­trol pop­u­la­tion growth. In a coun­try like In­dia, with a gar­gan­tuan pop­u­la­tion and rapid pop­u­la­tion growth, the la­tent ob­jec­tive is also im­por­tant.

If the length of preg­nancy does not ex­ceed 12 weeks, the opin­ion of one qual­i­fied reg­is­tered med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers is enough re­gard­ing the risk in­volved to the preg­nant woman and to the child to be born.

If the length of preg­nancy ex­ceeds 12 weeks but does not ex­ceed 20 weeks, the opin­ion of at least two qual­i­fied reg­is­tered med­i­cal prac­ti­tion­ers is nec­es­sary about the risk of preg­nancy.

This is an­other in­stance of hu­mane na­ture of In­dia’s abor­tion law.

A qual­i­fied reg­is­tered med­i­cal prac­ti­tioner is a per­son who has at least a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in medicine and surgery (MBBS) with ex­pe­ri­ence or train­ing in gy­nae­col­ogy and ob­stet­rics and whose name has been en­tered in State Med­i­cal Reg­is­ter.

A preg­nancy can also be ter­mi­nated if it is al­leged by the preg­nant woman to have been caused by rape, be­cause the an­guish caused by such preg­nancy will be pre­sumed to con­trib­ute a grave in­jury to the men­tal health of the preg­nant woman.

This is one more in­stance of the hu­mane na­ture of the MTP Act.

A preg­nancy can be le­gally ter­mi­nated if it oc­curs as a re­sult of fail­ure of any con­tra­cep­tive de­vice or method adopted by mar­ried woman or her hus­band for lim­it­ing the num­ber of chil­dren.

Terms on ter­mi­na­tion

The an­guish caused by such un­wanted preg­nancy may be pre­sumed to con­sti­tute a grave in­jury to the men­tal health of the preg­nant woman. This has di­rect im­pli­ca­tion for the con­trol of pop­u­la­tion growth.

It may be noted that no preg­nancy with a length of more than 20 weeks will be le­gally ter­mi­nated. In some in­dus­tri­alised coun­tries abor­tions of third trimester preg­nan­cies, which are called late-term or par­tial-birth abor­tions, are also al­lowed.

No late-term or par­tial-birth abor­tion is al­lowed in In­dia. Even if a woman car­ries hy­dro­cephalic baby who is cer­tain to die be­fore, dur­ing or shortly af­ter child­birth, she can­not opt for ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy if its length ex­ceeds 20 weeks.

In­dian law mak­ers per­haps be­lieved that af­ter 20 weeks of preg­nancy, the foe­tus is “vi­able” and that it is sin to ter­mi­nate such a preg­nancy.

No preg­nancy will be le­gally ter­mi­nated with­out the con­sent of the preg­nant woman. But no preg­nancy of a woman, who has not at­tained the age of 18 years, or who, hav­ing at­tained the age of 18 years is lu­natic will be ter­mi­nated ex­cept with the con­sent in writ­ing of her guardian.

This means that a woman be­low 18 years of age, who is a mi­nor, and a lu­natic woman, who is men­tally chal­lenged, can­not de­cide about an im­por­tant is­sue like ter­mi­na­tion of preg­nancy. This also falls within the do­main of hu­mane na­ture.

No preg­nancy will be le­gally ter­mi­nated in ac­cor­dance with the MTP Act at any place other than a hos­pi­tal es­tab­lished or main­tained by gov­ern­ment or a place for the time be­ing ap­proved for the pur­pose of the Act by gov­ern­ment.

MTP clin­ics or hos­pi­tals, which pro­vide MTP ser­vices, pro­vide fam­ily plan­ning coun­selling to the preg­nant woman if she al­ready has a child or two.

Since In­dia’s abor­tion law is hu­mane in more ways than one, there is no or­gan­ised op­po­si­tion to MTP. In some de­vel­oped coun­tries like the USA, abor­tion is an is­sue in cam­paigns of elec­tions at dif­fer­ent lev­els.

But in In­dia, MTP is not an is­sue in the cam­paigns of elec­tions to the vil­lage pan­chay­ats, taluk pan­chay­ats, district board’s, state leg­is­la­tures and Par­lia­ment.

Abor­tion laws in In­dia need to take cog­ni­sance of a chang­ing so­cial con­text.

The Supreme Court al­lowed a rape sur­vivor to abort her 24-week-old ab­nor­mal foe­tus.

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