Issues in Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.

Synopsis: The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020 (MTP Bill) does not confer women with rights over their own bodies.

Background

  • Recently termination of pregnancy was legalised up to the 14th week of pregnancy by Argentina’s Congress.
  • Parliament of India will also debate the abortion law in this budget session.
  • However, the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 (MTP Bill) is also not providing autonomy to women, unlike Argentina.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971

  1. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 was enacted to reduce the maternity mortality ratio due to unsafe abortions.
  2. The MTP Act only allows termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Further, it requires a second doctor’s approval if the pregnancy is beyond 12 weeks.
  3. The grounds on which a pregnancy can be terminated are-
    • If there is a grave risk to the physical or mental health of the woman.
    • If the pregnancy results from a sexual offense such as rape or intercourse with a mentally challenged woman.

Issues in the MTP Act-

  • First, the act provides the State with control over women’s rights through legal and medical methods. It gives no regard to the woman’s choice of keeping or terminating her pregnancy.
  • Second, It promotes arbitrary interpretation. In one case, the Court held that there were no grounds for abortion since the pregnancy was the outcome of a voluntary act. The woman knew the consequences of her Act.

Thus, due to such circumstances women recourse to the unsafe method of abortion. This is the third-largest cause of maternal deaths in India.

Now, the draft MTP bill 2020 is under consideration. But it is also not providing women with the required autonomy.

Issues in the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • First, The bill continuous with the legacy of hetero-patriarchal population control. Thus, men’s control over women’s bodies will continue.
  • Second, It still requires the signature of one doctor on termination of pregnancies up to 20 weeks old. For pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks old, approval of two doctors is required.
  • Third, The bill mandates the setup of a Medical Board in every state. The Medical Boards require giving opinions based on the facts regarding the termination of pregnancies. However, their personal beliefs could impact their opinion.
  • Fourth, The bill allows safe abortions in case of foetal “abnormalities at any stage of pregnancy. However, it does not consider valid situations for abortion like personal choice, sudden separation or death of a partner or domestic violence.
  • Fifth, the word ‘women’ is used in the proposed bill. This can deny access to safe abortion to transgender, intersex, and gender diverse persons.  

Way Forward

  • Termination of pregnancy is a woman’s choice to decide her life’s decision as an adult. Women can be responsible for their own choices.
  • The Government needs to understand the fact that State or doctors have no right to deny a woman a safe abortion. Otherwise, it will put questions on women’s empowerment in the nation.
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