MTP Act: Key Provisions and Issues

Norma McCorvey who was the litigant in the famous case Roe vs Wade in the US that led to the legalisation of abortion recently passed away. The debate of pro-life vs pro-choice and the abortion dilemma revolves around the issue of abortion.

Abortion and family planning in India

During British Rule

The India Penal Code, 1860 stated induced abortions as illegal. Induced abortion means purposely causing miscarriage. The only exemption was if it is done to save the life of the mother.

Before 1971

India was the first country to introduce family planning programme in 1952. The idea behind this programme was to popularise the concept of contraceptives so that the pregnancy can be avoided or delayed. But, the efforts were not enough to control the population. Sterilisation remained the only way for contraception after the family deciding to stop after having the desired number of children.

After 1971

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was enacted in the light of rising population and also preventing maternal deaths from illegal abortions without proper equipment and training. The MTP Act supports the pro-choice agenda and abortion provisions are determined by this Act.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act: Key Provisions

The Act made the abortions legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. The provisions of the Act are as follows:

  • The termination of pregnancy requires the opinion of two doctors.
  • The abortion can happen if the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger due to pregnancy.
  • If there is a risk of the birth of a handicapped or malformed baby.
  • Pregnancy of unmarried girls under 18 years of age, with the consent of the guardian.
  • Pregnancy resulting due to rape.
  • Pregnancy resulting due to the failure of sterilisation.
Misuse of the Act

The Act can be misused in the following ways:

  • The abort unwanted pregnancy the women can cite the reason of contraceptive failure.
  • The issue became so severe that the sex-selective abortions started taking place. With the use of Imaging technology like ultrasound with the intention to see the well-being of the foetus and to identify any danger to the lives of mother and child. But the increase in the number of ultrasound clinics and lack of proper regulations the sex-selective abortions (female) increased to such an extent that the sex-ratio declined.

According to census 2011, the abortions happening in a hospital ranges from 32% in Chhattisgarh to 72% in Assam. To address this issue the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act was introduced to stop illegal use of ultrasound machine to determine sex and close illegal clinics.

Issues ignored by MTP Act

The 20-week limit is set according to western countries; the conditions and the growth of humans are different there as compared to conditions in India. So, the 20 week limit for abortion seems to be irrelevant to the women living in remote areas in India.

Some families are not aware of the 20-week limit that they could not terminate the pregnancy after this period that is likely to put the life of the mother in danger. As in India, significant women register late for the pre-natal care. Due to being late precious time is lost which can be used to monitor the health of the foetus and there is no option left other than termination after detecting something wrong.

Similarly, some defects are detected after 20 weeks.

Draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2014

Recently, Supreme Court granted permission for a rape victim to abort her “abnormal” 24-week-old. The victim got relief under an exception in section 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. In order to address the deficiencies in the MTP Act, 1971, the health ministry has come up with the draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2014.

Some of the features of the draft bill are:

  • A health care provider can decide in good faith to allow abortion between 20 and 24 weeks if the pregnancy involves substantial risks to the mother or child, or the pregnant woman is a rape victim.
  • Taking into account the shortage in doctors and midwives, the draft bill allows Ayurveda, Unani and Siddha practitioners to carry out abortions

Conclusion

The benefits of MTP Act to women are very precious but they should be backed by the proper implementation. In order to stop misuse of the Act, the aggressive education and awareness programme on family planning is needed along with penetration of contraceptives to remote areas and their availability. The risks of abortion that a woman has to take while undergoing it has to be popularised. The responsibility and the respect of the unborn child have to be understood by the people.

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