Tribune News Service
New Delhi, August 21
A Bill to amend India’s 48-year-old abortion law is in the final stages with inter-ministerial consultations on the draft almost over. Once approved, the Bill will allow the much-needed relaxations on abortion for a defined set of women, such as victims of rape and incest and those carrying highly abnormal foetuses incompatible with life.
Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told The Tribune in an exclusive interview today that the ministry was in the process of finalising the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Draft Amendment Bill, 2019.
“The ministry has proposed to amend the MTP Act, 1971, to provide safe, affordable, accessible and acceptable abortion services and expand access to abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian and social grounds.The proposed MTP Draft Amendment Bill, 2019, was earlier submitted to the Law Ministry after seeking comments of other ministries, but the Law Ministry returned it to us asking for re-submission after fresh consultations following the formation of the new government.
“So we re-initiated the inter-ministerial consultations and are now in the process of finalising the MTP Draft Amendment Bill 2019 after incorporating the suggestions received from various ministries. This process will be completed expeditiously,” Vardhan said.
The existing MTP Act, 1971, bars abortion beyond the fetal age of 20 weeks. The new Bill is expected to relax this condition for certain categories of women. One category will likely feature victims of sexual violence (rape and incest). They will be allowed to terminate their pregnancy beyond the fetal age of 20 weeks within 24 weeks.
Another category is expected to cover abortion of foetuses certified by doctors to be “incompatible with life”. In this second category, the gestational age limit for a fetus is likely to be dropped altogether because the foetus is bound to die anyway, and in the process is likely to risk the mother’s life.
Vardhan said the ministry was working on a Bill to punish people who assault doctors on duty. “The draft Bill proposes to safeguard doctors on duty by prescribing punishment for those who assault doctors on duty. We propose to introduce the Bill in the next session of Parliament.” The most recent case of assault on doctors came from NRS Medical College, Kolkata. It triggered nationwide protests and strike by doctors.
On the Indian Council of Medical Research recommendation to ban Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) like e-cigarettes, e-hookahs and vapes in India, Vardhan said: “The government is determined to ban ENDS in India.”
He said the new medical education regulator, the National Medical Commission Bill (NMC), along with its Advisory Council and four autonomous boards, would be set up “not later than six months”.
“A search committee will soon be constituted under the Cabinet Secretary to select the chairman, members of the commission, boards and secretary to the NMC, which replaces the Medical Council of India,” Vardhan said.
He said the first edition of the proposed National Exit Test (final-year national-level MBBS exam) under the new NMC law would be held within three years. The exam is proposed to serve as a licentiate test for MBBS pass-outs, entrance test for PG courses and to test foreign medical graduates.
“The Act itself says NEXT will become operational within three years. The NMC, after its constitution, will decide its pattern and modalities in discussion with all stakeholders. Till such time as NEXT rolls out, NEET (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test) PG will continue,” the minister clarified.
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