Sarabjit Kaur, Associate Creative Ideator, InsPIRE
Motherhood!! Such an overwhelming feeling it is for any woman! To be able to nourish a new life within you! Makes you feel nothing less than a superwoman! But what if a woman conceives without knowing so? Well, in that case, she can choose to continue with the pregnancy or abort it. Now, the tough situation comes when a woman has to make up her mind to give up her pregnancy. It becomes all the more daunting when such a pregnancy is a result of sexual violence or abuse. Imagine a woman undergoing the pain of an unfortunate incident as heinous as rape. Such a woman will never be interested in reliving the painful incident by continuing with the unwanted pregnancy. Abortion is the saviour in any such scenario.
Abortion laws have been recently amended via the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 to allow a relatively easier access to abortion care in India. Under the recent amendments, the State Governments have been directed to set up Medical Boards in their respective states to exercise such powers as have been prescribed in the Act.
The 2021 Act has its own silver lining as it aims at making the abortion-related procedural formalities comparatively easier. Now, only a single medical practitioner’s opinion is sufficient to terminate a pregnancy which is less than 20 weeks old.
The star of the 2021 Act is the provision permitting rape victims to undergo abortion up to a period of 24 weeks. This can prove to be a game-changer in the Indian scenario. We cannot deny the lack of primary health care facilities in India. Several surveys have exposed harsh realities concerning rape victims. Almost half of the rape victims never get any medical attention related to rape. Another disturbing statistical points out that about 1/3rd of the rape victims do not discover their pregnancy until they have already entered their second trimester. You may now be able to appreciate the saving power of this provision; allowing termination of pregnancy up to a period of 24 weeks.
The second major change impacts the pregnancies with substantial foetal abnormalities. Such women can approach the prospective Medical Board in their respective state to seek medical opinion concerning abortion. The 2021 Act provides that the Medical Board shall have the final say in such matters. Furthermore, the upper gestational limit has been removed in case of such pregnancies.
Reinforcing the Puttaswamy judgement, the 2021 Act finally aims to honour the ‘right to privacy’ of women availing abortion care in India. The Act bars the medical practitioner from disclosing any details of the woman undergo abortion to anyone except to a person prescribed under law.
With such promising changes, the future definitely looks brighter in case of abortion care in India. We cannot say that all has been achieved but the recent amendments can certainly be regarded as a step in the right direction. It will require considerable effort on the part of the State Governments to be able to implement the provisions prescribed under the recent amendments. Although the Act is inadvertently ambitious, we can only hope that it is able to make the situation relatively better for the concerned vulnerable women.
This is an analysis of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021. Views and ideas expressed in this article must be read as an analytical piece, rather than a debate between right and wrong.