From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act
Mains level : Reproductive rights of women
The Delhi High Court has permitted a 28-week pregnant woman to undergo medical termination of pregnancy on account of substantial foetal abnormality.
What did the HC rule?
Ans. Termination of Pregnancy is a matter of Right
- The High Court said the woman cannot be deprived of the freedom to take a decision to continue or not to continue with the pregnancy, due to foetal abnormalities.
- HC ruled that reproductive choice is a dimension of personal liberty that is enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution.
- It stated that allowing the pregnancy to continue would have a deleterious impact on the petitioner’s mental health.
- The petitioner cannot be deprived of the freedom to take a decision to continue or not to continue with the pregnancy in view the medical board’s opinion.
What is the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act?
- Abortion in India has been legal under various circumstances for the last 50 years with the introduction of MTP Act in 1971.
- The Act was amended in 2003 to enable women’s accessibility to safe and legal abortion services.
Termination of pregnancy is permitted for a broad range of conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation as detailed below:
- Threat to mother: When the continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;
- Child abnormalities: When there is substantial risk that the child, if born or dead would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities;
- Rape survivors: When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
- Failure of contraception: When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (presumed to constitute grave injury to mental health of the woman).
Conditions for abortion
- The MTP Act specifies – (i) who can terminate a pregnancy; (ii) till when a pregnancy can be terminated; and (iii) where can a pregnancy be terminated.
- There must be an opinion formed of a doctor, that the pregnancy would cause a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health.
- When a pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks but not 24 weeks, termination is permissible on the opinion formed of two registered medical practitioners.
What was the recent case?
- In the present case, the woman has completed 28 weeks of pregnancy.
- As the MTP Act does not permit pregnancy termination beyond 24 weeks, she approached the court.
- Various anomalies were found in the heart of the foetus in the foetal ECG.
There are differing opinions with regard to allowing abortions.
- One opinion is that terminating a pregnancy is the choice of the pregnant woman and a part of her reproductive rights.
- The other is that the state has an obligation to protect life, and hence should provide for the protection of the foetus.
- Across the world, countries set varying conditions and time limits for allowing abortions, based on foetal health, and risk to the pregnant woman.
- Access to abortion facilities is limited not just by legislative barriers but also the fear of judgment from medical practitioners.
- It is imperative that healthcare providers be sensitized towards being scientific, objective and compassionate in their approach to abortions.