Abortion law in India & Amendments | Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
Abortion is a term used to define the death of an unborn child in the womb voluntarily by the mother within 24 weeks of pregnancy using medicine or surgical procedure. Often sometimes we mistake it with the term “miscarriage”. However, both these terms are different. Miscarriage is a naturally occurring event where a child dies inside the womb due to the non-development of the fetus.
Miscarriage is also known as Spontaneous Abortion. In this modern era, it has become legal in many countries. In the 1960s only 15 countries had legalized them while India made it legal in 1971. Abortion is still criminalized in India to some extent, and to control such activities, a law was formed.
Abortion law in INDIA
Before 1971, it was criminalized under section 312 of the Indian Penal Code and described it as ‘intentionally causing miscarriage’ except in the cases where the life of the mother needed to be saved.
In 1964 a committee was formed by the Govt. of INDIA led by Shantilal Shah to draft the Abortion law in India. The draft of this committee was accepted in 1970 and proposed in the parliament in 1971. The bill was passed in August 1971 as the “Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act”.
According to research, it is estimated that more than 15 million abortions take place in India every year among them a significant proportion are considered to be unsafe leading to the death of the mother.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act provides a legal framework for making CAC (Comprehensive Abortion care) services available. Some of the common aspects of the MTP act are:-
- Abortion can be done up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.
- It needs to be conducted if there is a risk to the life of a woman to continue the pregnancy if there is a risk that the child would be dead or abnormal after birth.
- It can also be conducted if pregnancy is caused by rape causing injury to the woman mentally or if it happened due to the failure of contraceptives.
- The MTP act specifies that the procedure can only be conducted by the recognized medical practitioner who has medical qualification under the Indian Medical council act, who also has registered his name in State Medical Register and also has experience as per MTP rules.
- Pregnancy can be aborted in government hospitals having CAC services. Private hospitals, however, require the approval of the government from the District level committee.
- As per the provisions of the MTP Act, only the consent of the woman is required if she is above 18 years. For a minor or a woman who is mentally ill, the consent of a guardian is also required.
- MTP Act specifies that for abortion up to 12 weeks, the opinion of only one Registered Medical Practitioner(RMP) is required, however, for termination between 12-20 weeks opinions of 2 RMPs are necessary.
MTP Act, Amendment, 2002
The MTP act required an amendment for a long time to facilitate the proper implementation and increase access for women, especially in the private health sector. The amendments made in the act were:-
- The amendment meant that the government decentralized the process of approval to offer CAC services to a district-level committee that is empowered to approve such proposals from private hospitals.
- The word “Lunatic” is substituted with “mentally-ill person”. This was done to draw attention that ‘mentally-ill person’ means who is in need of mental treatment.
- Strict penalties were introduced for unapproved sites or unapproved/untrained medical practitioners conduction MTP.
The MTP Rules, 2003 states that the district level committee should include a Surgeon/Gynecologist/Anesthetist while others must be from the local medical profession or non-government organizations. MTP Rules, 2003 provide specific guidelines to the approved place for offering CAC services.
According to MTP Rules, 2003 an approved place can be inspected by the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the District anytime to verify if the terminations are done safely. CMO is also authorized to cancel/suspend the certificate of the private place if the report doesn’t meet the requirements mentioned under the rules.
MTP Act, Amendment, 2020
The MTP Act was amended in March 2020 and made some crucial changes. The bill, however, requires further approval in the ensuing session of parliament to form a revised act. Some of the changes proposed to this bill include:
- Extension of time for termination of Pregnancy
- Constitution of Medical Board
- Privacy Clause for protection
Extension of time for termination of Pregnancy
The amendment has extended the time-period of abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
Previously, termination required the consent of one doctor until 12 weeks and 2 doctors from 12-20 weeks. In the amendment, only one doctor’s consent is required till 20 weeks and 2 doctor’s from 20-24 weeks.
A separate category of women for termination at 24 or beyond 24 weeks only and only if:-
- They are rape survivors,
- Pregnancy caused due to incest,
- A woman is differently-abled,
- A woman is a minor,
- Abnormalities detected in the fetus during that period.
Constitution of Medical Board
The bill allows the constitution of a medical board which includes medical experts such as Sonologist, Radiologist, Gynaecologist. The Medical Board is authorized to examine the need for the termination of pregnancy if the upper limit of 24 weeks has passed.
Privacy Clause for Protection
The bill added a privacy clause which will make it a punishable offense if the identity of a woman seeking an abortion is revealed. The details can only be revealed to a person authorized by law.