In Focus

The woman’s right to abort is conditional

By Manu Shrivastava

In a country where discussions on sex education, pre-marital sex, safe sex, menstruation even sexual health and hygiene have hushed undertones, conversations around abortion invite mixed responses - shame, stigma and sometimes fear. The topic, however, remains controversial and is perceived mainly through the prism of religious and moral and not medical grounds or an expression of a woman’s personal choice.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) or Medical Abortion is the ending of a pregnancy by removal of the foetus, pregnancy tissue or products of conception. When foetus is removed, it is done before it can survive outside the uterus. When the pregnancy is ended with deliberation, it is called an ‘induced abortion’ and when the abortion occurs and when the abortion occurs without intervention, it is known as a ‘spontaneous abortion’ or a ‘miscarriage’. A procedure where foetus capable of surviving outside the womb is removed is called ‘termination of pregnancy’.

There are two ways to end a pregnancy i.e. abortion:
- Medical Abortion by use of drugs (pills)
- Surgical Abortion by operation in a clinic

Every country has a different abortion law that permits, restricts or prohibits abortion and regulates it in a manner such. The law is governed by the socio-cultural and ethical framework of that country. Abortion remains a divisive social and political issue. For example, in Ireland, where abortion had always been illegal, a new law introduced in 2018 allowed abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and later in cases where the pregnant woman's life is at risk, or in cases of fatal foetal abnormalities. The archaic Irish abortion law came under intense scrutiny and criticism when, in 2012, an Indian woman living in Ireland - Savita Halappanavar - died after being denied an abortion while suffering a septic miscarriage.

In India, a very progressive Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was enacted in 1971 that provides for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered Medical Practitioners until 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The union cabinet recently approved The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that proposes ‘to permit the termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks from the existing 20 weeks’ and ‘aims to expand access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds’.

The increase in gestational age has been proposed mainly for rape survivors and minors and will now require consultation from two medical experts, instead of one. Minister of Women and Child Development Smriti Irani called it ‘a new step towards gender equality’.

And rightly so, as the amended law will help minor rape survivors who, in the initial months, do not even realise they are pregnant. In such cases, the parents often learn of the rape and the pregnancy much later, even after 20 weeks. So, the proposed amendments mark a significant victory for reproductive rights for women.