No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother
– Margaret Sanger
Currently, India has a regressive law the act that governs, the safe termination of pregnancies of women is The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP Act). The Act provides for termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners only if specified conditions are met. The objective behind introducing such a statute is to reduce the maternal mortality rate which may be caused due to unsafe and illegal abortions. Section 3 of the act only allows abortion only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy solely on medical grounds which will have severe consequences on the life and limb of the mother or infant. This is problematic because some medical abnormalities in the foetus are only detected in the 19th week of pregnancy. Further, due to lack of proper ultrasonic equipment, the detection of abnormalities is delayed.[i]
In 2002, there were some minor changes made to the act. Major developments started taking place in the late 2000s. In 2009, the Supreme Court in Suchita Srivastava v Chandigarh Administration held that a woman’s right to make reproductive choices is a dimension of personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.[ii] In 2019, a PIL in Supreme Court, in the matter of Swati Agarwal and Others versus Union of India challenged Section 3 of the MTP Act.[iii] The matter is pending adjudication.
On 29th October 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare came up with a draft amendment, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2014. The bill proposes to extend the upper limit to twenty-four weeks as the maximum limit for carrying out a legally permissible abortion. It also seeks to replace the words “married woman” with that of “any woman” under Section 3 of the Act,[iv] thus covering cases where pregnancy occurs as a result of the failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children.
On similar lines, another amendment bill, The MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020, proposed in late January seeks to extend the upper limit of pregnancy termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. MTP Bill also extends the ambit with other groups like special categories of women, victims of incest, differently-abled women and minor women being allowed to abort. It however, does not allow all women the right to abortion. [v]
“Banning abortion does not stop abortion. It stops safe abortion.”
Illegal abortion is a serious problem. Around 7 million women are admitted to hospitals every year in developing countries, as a result of unsafe abortion.[vi] If the amendment is allowed, India will have one of the most progressive abortion laws in the world. It will spearhead India towards progress and women empowerment.
[ii] CIVIL APPEAL NO.5845 OF 2009
[iii] WP(C) 825/2019