Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill, 2020

The Act regulates the conditions under which a pregnancy may be aborted.  The Bill increases the time period within which abortion may be carried out.

Amendments Suggested 

  • Currently, abortion requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.  The Bill allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks. 
  • The Bill sets up state level Medical Boards to decide if a pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities.

Merits of MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • It provides safe, affordable, accessible abortion services to women if substantial foetal anomalies detected late in pregnancy and pregnancies due to sexual violence faced by women.
  • With advancement of medical technology for safe abortion, there is a scope for increasing upper gestational limit for terminating pregnancies especially for vulnerable women and for pregnancies with substantial foetal anomalies detected late in pregnancy. 
  • It increases access of women to legal and safe abortion service in order to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity caused by unsafe abortion and its complications.

Demerits of MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • Categories of women who can terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks are not specified in the bill, while it is delegated to the central government to notify these categories.
  • The Bill does not provide a time frame within which the Board must make its decision for termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks.
  • Delays in decision-making by the Medical Board may result in further complications for the pregnant woman. 
  • Some medical studies have shown that there may be cases where persons who identify as transgender (and not women) can become pregnant even after receiving hormone therapy to transition from female to male and may require termination services. Bill is unclear if transgender persons will be covered under the Bill or not.
  • The All-India Rural Health Statistics (2018-19) indicates there are 1,351 gynaecologists and obstetricians in community health clinics in rural areas across India, and the shortfall is 4,002, i.e. there is a 75% shortage of qualified doctors. 
  • The bill was not sent to a Parliamentary Select Committee for detailed scrutiny and did not reflect consultations with stakeholders. 

Way forward

  • The categories of women who can terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks should be specified by Parliament by law and not delegated to the government. 
  • There should be a definite time period for decisions by the medical board for termination of pregnancy after 24 weeks, to avoid delays and check complications for the pregnant woman.
  • India have Transgender Persons (Protections and Rights) Act, 2019 recognises transgender as an additional gender in India, so considering this there is need to cover transgender persons under the Bill.
  • Bill needs to go through detailed scrutiny of the Parliamentary Select Committee and should acquire consultations from various stakeholders involved to make it more comprehensive.

Practice question-

What are the amendments suggested to India’s abortion law under Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill, 2020? Discuss their merits and demerits?

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