Tribune News Service
New Delhi, November 5
Changes to India’s 48-year-old abortion law are set for Union Cabinet clearance with the Ministry of Health finalising the revolutionary draft law at its end.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill 2019 proposes sweeping reforms to the mother legislation of 1971 and easing existing abortion rules for a special set of women that will include victims of rape and incest; single mothers and widows and women confronting life threatening foetal complications and abnormalities.
The existing MTP Act 1971 does not allow abortions beyond the foetal age of 20 weeks. The draft amendment Bill however relaxes the ceiling for abortion to 24 weeks for a defined category of women mainly featuring victims of sexual violence, whose rights have been viewed as special.
The amendment law is significant as it comes close on the heels of the Centre telling the Supreme Court in a recent petition that the right to reproductive autonomy of a woman cannot be greater than the state’s duty to protect an unborn child who cannot speak for itself.
The Health Ministry, after comprehensive consultations, however agreed to relax the rigid 20-week ceiling for abortions for women who have suffered rape, incest and other forms of violence, with the crimes against women assuming epidemic proportions.
Sources in the Ministry said the “special category of women can include more sets such as single mothers and widows.”
“The amendments aim to provide safe, affordable, accessible and acceptable abortion services and expand the access to abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian and social grounds,” said a top ministry source.
Another set of women who are likely to be allowed eased abortion rules (up to 24 weeks) are women with foetuses certified by doctors to be “incompatible with life”.
It remains to be seen whether for the second category of women the gestational age of the foetus and the abortion ceiling will be dropped altogether, as was the thinking during consultations.
Health Ministry finalises the landmark pro-women draft law that raises the ceiling for abortions from the current 20 weeks to 24 weeks for a special set of women, including rape and incest victims
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