In a recent case, the Supreme Court of India denied permission to a 10-year-old minor to abort her 26-week pregnancy. The minor in this case was a rape victim, who was serially raped by her uncle.
The district court in Chandigarh took the decision on an opinion by a panel of doctors from the city’s Government Medical College and Hospital, where the girl was examined. Speaking about the problems that the minor will have to undergo, Dr Arundhati Ghorpade, a gynaecologist, says that the minor victim’s body is not fully developed so there are chances of her suffering from physical and mental trauma not only now but also in the later stages of life.
Also, during the delivery, there are more chances of morbidity and even a small amount of mortality chances cannot be ignored.
The above petitioner in the case is not the only one knocking the doors of the court to seek permission to abort the pregnancy. In the recent past, we have seen many cases where minors, rape victims and even adults knocking the doors of the court to terminate pregnancies due to various complications or other reasons as according to Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, termination of pregnancy is allowed only till 20 weeks of pregnancy under the guidance of registered medical practitioners.
In many cases, the court procedure takes a long time and by the time the case is heard, the foetus has grown even more or in case of minors, especially rape victims, the pregnancies are detected at a later stage which makes the minors more prone to complications in pregnancy and physical and psychological effects in the long term.
These cases again raise the need to have a comprehensive law on abortion in our country.
Currently, there is a huge debate going on the existing MTP Act, 1971 which is effective in India. According to the Act, a pregnancy can be terminated only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy under the guidance of registered medical practitioners.
If we look back when this Act was introduced and implemented, the Shantilal Shah Committee in 1964 had recommended liberalisation of abortion law in 1966. It was introduced to reduce maternal morbidity and mortality associated with illegal abortion.
On these bases, in 1969 the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill was introduced in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha and passed by the Parliament in August 1971 and implemented from April 1972.
The MTP Act, 1971 provides for the termination of pregnancies only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy by registered medical practitioners, the Act also specifies other conditions of when, where and who can conduct an abortion.
Dr Ghorpade says in many cases, it is seen that the abnormalities in the foetus are detected in the later stages of pregnancy. So the court should exempt restrictions on abortions in cases of severe abnormalities in the foetus, cases of rape, especially when it is minor and unmarried women.
In MTP (Amendment) Act, 2014 tabled by the government, it was proposed that the words ‘registered medical practitioners’ be replaced with ‘registered health care providers’. This implies that pregnancy can be terminated not only by medical practitioners, but also practitioners qualified in Homoeopathy, Ayurveda, Unani or Siddha, nurses or auxiliary nurse midwives.
The draft bill also proposes an increase in the time limit for the termination of pregnancy, from the existing 20 weeks to 24 weeks. In addition, it seeks to do away with any time limit if a foetal abnormality is detected.
Again MTP (Amendment) Act, 2014 has its pros and cons. According to a study, medical abortion means the use of allopathic drugs which is not taught to health care providers of homoeopathy, ayurveda etc. As of now, there are no homoeopathic or ayurvedic drugs, which can be used for medical abortion.
Also in India, nurses are not allowed to prescribe drugs. Medical abortion drugs are not over-the-counter drugs so, cannot be prescribed by non-allopathic health care providers. So how will the amendments in the MTP be safe and helpful to women is a question which remains unanswered.
In fact, there are chances that morbidity and mortality rate may go up even further and sex selective abortions may rise. The Bill will give more women access to abortion, but will it be safe?
It is high time that the government conduct a proper study of the shortcomings of the MTP Act and seek a detailed examination from the experts in the field and make the necessary amendments. There is an urgent need to establish a comprehensive abortion law.