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Abortion is a woman’s right to decide

  • 08 April, 2021

  • 8 Min Read

Abortion is a woman’s right to decide

Introduction

  • This article talks about the issues of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 and how women are being deprived of their right to abortion.

After much stonewalling

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) may have been considered progressive at that time considering that provisions in the Indian Penal Code regarding termination of pregnancy were enacted over a century ago in keeping with the British law on the subject.
    • Abortions were made a crime and the woman concerned and her doctor would invariably land up in jail.
  • Section 3 put an outer limit of 20 weeks on the length of the pregnancy and required two doctors to certify that the continuation of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health or that there was a substantial risk that the child born would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
    • Explanation 1 dealt with rape cases where it was to be presumed that the anguish caused would constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the woman.
    • Explanation 2 laid down that any pregnancy occurring as a result of failure of contraception would likewise be presumed to constitute a grave injury.
  • Section 5 created an exception to the 20 week limit whenever such an abortion was immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
  • The 1971 Act was based on “The Report of the Shantilal H. Shah Committee to Study the Question of Legislation of Abortion” 1967, which set out the limitations of technology which made it hazardous for women to have abortions done after the 20th week.
  • This limitation disappeared with the phenomenal improvement in technology and processes rendering it possible to carry out abortions safely right up to full term.
  • Thus the excuse of “safety of the woman” was no longer tenable to be used for restricting women’s rights.

The after-effect

  • The limits for abortion has pushed women seeking abortions underground where terminations are carried out in unhygienic and dangerous places, and in horrific situations.
  • Even today about 800,000 illegal and unsafe abortions are performed every year in India, many of them resulting in morbidities and death.
  • In Murugan Nayakkar vs Union of India & Ors, the abortion was permitted at 31 weeks, very close to full term.
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act 2021 fails miserably on the main count while introducing few collateral progressive measures.
  • First, the Act fails to recognise the absolute right of a woman over her body in taking decisions regarding abortions and reproductive health.
  • It still reserves to the state the right to dictate to the woman that she cannot have an abortion at will.
  • Second, even though the limit has been pushed back from 20 to 24 weeks, this comes with the same state conditionalities as before.
  • Third, 24 weeks is not rational given today’s technology where abortions can be done safely up to full term.

Medical boards are obstacles

  • By far the biggest failure of the government lies in enacting section 3(2B) which requires the pregnant woman to approach a medical board in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities and where she has crossed the 24 week limit.
  • These boards impose insurmountable obstacles to the woman seeking late abortions.
  • First, what used to be an exchange between the pregnant woman and her gynaecologist who would take a decision as to safety, has now been replaced by a board of a minimum of three doctors.
    • This is totally unnecessary and breaches privacy.
  • Second, and this is indicative of complete non-application of mind, the Act provides in section 3(2C) for a single board for a State.
    • Given the millions of abortions taking place in India past the deadline, it is impossible for one board to handle all cases.
  • Third, assuming multiple boards will be established, the records show that no State has the finances or the human resources to maintain the operation and functioning of these boards.
  • Fourth, the right to seek termination is restricted to “such category of women as may be prescribed by rules”.
    • One wonders what categories of women would be permitted termination of pregnancies!

Conclusion

  • The main objection remains; that boards are totally unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and pregnant women, like they used to do, should be left alone to consult their gynaecologist in late term pregnancies and carry out their abortion under the certificate of their own gynaecologist that the abortion can be performed safely.
    • This is the trend worldwide and in the courts.
  • The Indian government needs to wake up and educate itself on women’s emancipation worldwide.

 

 

Source: TH

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