MTP Amendment 2020
Abortion laws in India are governed by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP - 1971), As per the 1971 act, abortion on account of failure of contraception was allowed for married women. The MTP 2020 bill extends this provision to unmarried women, allowing them to seek abortion on failure of contraception.
The new bill extends permissible time for abortion from 20 weeks of pregnancy to 24 weeks, under special circumstances for ‘special categories of women’ after diagnosis by a medical panel, This categories will include rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled, minors and pregnancy with substantial foetal abnormalities.
The new bill also proposes that if pregnancy has to be terminated within 20 weeks, the opinion of one doctor is required. Between 20-24 weeks, the opinion of a government medical panel would be needed.
The new bill seeks to provide more privacy to women. Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy is terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised by law. If anyone reveals the private details, except to those authorised by law, they shall be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year, or with fine, or with both.
The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha (lower house of the Indian parliament) on 17 March 2020 and will now be presented in the upper house, the Rajya Sabha. After it is approved by the upper house, the bill will go to the president. Once the president signs the bill, it will come into effect as the law.
While the new bill is progressive and removes some hurdles to safe and legal access to abortion in India, a few concerns remain.
The right to safe and legal abortion is still not completely available to women and ignores the right to choose what she wants to do with her body.
Even under the new bill, the facility or the right to abort is not available to women as a free reproductive choice, but only as an option on certain socio-medical conditions. Even then, a doctor’s opinion is required for a woman to access abortion. So a woman’s decision about her own body is not a free choice.
Also, although the proposed amendment increases the gestational limit for legal abortion from 20 to 24 weeks, it is only for specific categories such as survivors of rape, victims of incest and minors. This means that any woman who does not fall into these categories would not be able to seek an abortion beyond 20 weeks, even if she has a valid reason (such as a grave injury) and wishes to get an abortion.
Also in pregnancies with suspected foetal abnormalities beyond 20 weeks, a government medical board will decide if a woman can get an abortion, which means decision-making now moves from the woman and her doctor to a third party - a medical board.
While the new bill guarantees women confidentiality and privacy, it still requires for the information to be shared with law-enforcement personnel. For example, the MTP Act makes it mandatory for doctors to maintain privacy and confidentiality of the woman seeking abortion, but this clause may clash with Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) act. POCSO makes it compulsory to report any sexual activity involving minors to the police.
This may make it tough for adolescent girls seeking abortions for various reasons. It can also make it difficult for the health care professionals to provide any sexual health counselling or services to adolescents, even in times of crisis.