SC allows abortion of ailing foetus

5/7/2017 946 Social Issues | Gender issues | View Recent Current Affairs

  • The Supreme Court allowed a Mumbai woman to abort her 24-week-old foetus that had no kidneys and would most likely die after birth.
  • The Supreme Court observed that the right of a woman to have a reproductive choice was part of personal liberty. Every woman had a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity.
  • Abortion in India is legal only up to twenty weeks of pregnancy under specific conditions and situations, which are broadly defined as: the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury of physical or mental health.
  • This is the second case this year in which the Supreme Court has intervened to allow an exception under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.

MTP Act:

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in India came into existence in 1971. It was amended in 2003 to facilitate better implementation and increase access for women especially in the private health sector.
  • The MTP Act sets some limitations regarding the circumstances when abortion is permissible, the persons who are competent to perform the procedure, and the place where it could be performed. Outside the ring of protection that the Act draws, the IPC still operates.
  • The MTP Act overrides the IPC by allowing a woman to get an abortion within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, provided a registered medical practitioner diagnoses grave danger to the pregnant woman’s physical and mental health. If the foetus is between 12 and 20 weeks old, then the procedure requires permission from two medical practitioners. The Act also allows abortion if the foetus will be born with severe abnormalities.
  • To determine the risk of physical and mental harm to a pregnant woman seeking abortion, the Act takes into account the woman’s actual as well as reasonably foreseeable environment.
  • It also defines circumstances which can constitute grave injury to the mental health of a woman. The mentally grievous situations include pregnancy resulting from rape as well as contraceptive failure – of any contraception used by a married woman or her husband – if a married couple is attempting to limit their number of children.
  • Abortion beyond 20 weeks is also legal if a registered medical practitioner, in good faith, thinks that emergency termination is necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.

Analysis:

  • Revision of the legal limit for abortion is long overdue. Foetal abnormalities show up only by 18 weeks, so just a two-week window after that is too small for the would-be parents to take the difficult call on whether to keep their baby. Even for the medical practitioner, this window is too small to exhaust all possible options before advising the patient to take the extreme step.
  • Again, the 45 years since the enactment of the law has seen technology break new grounds — from ultrasound to magnetic resonance imaging to a range of high-end foetal monitoring devices that have taken prenatal diagnosis far beyond the illegal sex determination tests that have refused to die out completely.
  • The rising incidence of sex crimes, and the urgent need to empower women with sexual rights and choices both in their own interest and for the sake of reducing the fertility rate as a whole, have made it imperative that the law be changed. In any case — and what is far more worrying — is the fact that the lack of legal approval does not prevent abortions from being carried out beyond 20 weeks. And they are done in shady, unhygienic conditions by untrained, unqualified quacks, putting thousands of women at risk probably every day.

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