[op-ed snap] A Law Past Its Sell-by Date

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Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act

Mains level: Changes required in abortion law in India in order to make abortions safe as well as improve health of women


Context

Abortion law in India

  1. Abortion has been legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act since 1971 when it was hailed as one of the more progressive laws in the world
  2. According to the Act, abortion can be provided at the discretion of a medical provider under certain conditions
  3. Though the Act was liberal for its time, it has limitations that pose barriers to women and girls seeking legal abortions

Objectives of the law

  1. To control the population resulting from unintended pregnancies (which even today are to the tune of 48 per cent)
  2. To reduce the increasing maternal mortality and morbidity due to illegal, unsafe abortions

What are the barriers in the law?

  1. Currently, the Act allows abortion up to 20 weeks
  2. When it comes to foetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from rape, this limit is proving to be a hurdle for both the woman and the provider
  3. Women seeking an abortion after the legal gestation limit (a phenomenon that is fairly common due to later detection of abnormalities in the foetus or shame and stigma associated with rape), often have no option but to appeal to the courts and run from pillar to post for permission to terminate the pregnancy

What does this lead to?

  1. Many women, when denied legal abortions, turn to unqualified providers or adopt unsafe methods of termination
  2. According to a study published in The Lancet recently, 15.6 million abortions took place in India in 2015 out of which about 11.5 million took place outside health facilities
  3. Estimates based on the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2001-03, indicate that unsafe abortions account for 8 per cent of maternal deaths in India

Amendments returned back

  1. In 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recognised these barriers and proposed certain amendments to the Act
  2. It proposed various changes key amongst which were increasing the gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for rape survivors and other vulnerable women and removing the gestation limit in the case of foetal abnormalities
  3. In 2017, these amendments were returned to the ministry with the mandate to strengthen the implementation of the MTP Act as it stands

Way Forward

  1. We are living in times when abortion is at the centre of global conversations on reproductive health and rights
  2. Adopting and implementing the amendments will take us a few steps closer towards ensuring that all girls and women have access to safe abortion services
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.
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