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Indian Women Can Finally Choose To Abort Foetuses Till The 24th Week – Who All Does It Help?

Posted: February 3, 2020

The recently announced Medical Termination Pregnancy Act allows women to abort the foetus up till 24 weeks. Here is what it means for anyone opting for it.

It was recently reported that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act is all set to be amended to allow abortion limit up to 24 weeks instead of the earlier 20 weeks. The Act received a cabinet nod for the same.

This is a great relief for the women who were unable to benefit from this Right earlier. It is especially beneficial for women who were victims of sexual violence, rape or the ones carrying abnormal foetuses.

While, there have been giant strides made in technology that would have helped women for the last category, the earlier law was unnecessarily disadvantageous for them. Earlier, they had to carry the foetus with the abnormality instead of being able to have the choice to terminate it.

Right to abortion is a basic right

The right to abortion is a fundamental human right for a woman. There is a variation across the world in terms of the freedom and the restrictions about the right to abortion. This, however, doesn’t change the fact that it is an important choice that a woman needs to have in order to determine the future of the foetus she is carrying.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed in India in 1971 with an aim to improve maternal health by stopping unsafe abortions. It thus legalised the abortion procedure under certain conditions and circumstances. One of those was giving a restrictive abortion choice to women.

The Act mandated the right to terminate pregnancy upto 20 weeks. However, approval of a second doctor was mandatory if the abortion involved a foetus beyond 12 weeks. The Act also gave legal protection to medical practitioners from penal provisions that an abortion attracted the Indian Penal Code under section 315 to 316.

What the earlier Act stated

It laid down higher medical qualifications, training for the doctor conducting the procedure on foetus beyond 12 weeks upto 20 weeks of pregnancy. And also prescribed the place where such terminations have to be conducted. It provided for the maintenance of records of terminations of pregnancy conducted.

The Act was amended in 2002 followed by another amendment of rules in 2003. This decentralised the site registration from state to district level. It also placed strict penalties for conducting terminations of pregnancy at unregistered and unregulated sites. This enabled a larger number of women to exercise their right to safe abortion at safe sites. Only a Registered Medical Practitioner could conduct such termination and that too, at registered and regulated sites.

However, the new amendment is going to prolong the availability of this option beyond 20 weeks up till 24 weeks. Late abortions are abortions that may be required, in some cases, owing to the condition of the foetus. It might not be medically viable to carry on a foetus with manifested abnormalities. The carrying woman must have a choice to decide whether to carry on or to terminate the pregnancy.

How does the new Act help women?

With the various advancements in technology, one can find out about the foetus as it develops in the womb with regards to the gestational growth benchmarks. Often, a foetus with abnormalities could perhaps be an un-affordable liability for a woman, as opposed to a cause of joy. Under such circumstances, she needs to have the right to choose to either give birth to the baby or terminate pregnancy, albeit a little late.

Statistically, the maximum number of abortions are conducted before the 20 weeks period, having a choice post that may be a matter of great relief to some women. Some kind of pregnancies suffer from major birth defects that are often incurable or no medical treatment is available to assail them. And in some cases, the symptoms manifest in the foetus only post the 21 week period. 

An amniocentesis- a procedure to diagnose the chromosomal abnormalities is usually conducted between the 16th and the 22nd week of pregnancy. So, most women would receive the actual outcome regarding fatal foetal abnormalities only beyond the 20 week period.

Also post the 20 week period, doctors conduct an ultrasound to diagnose the abnormalities in the organs and the body of the foetus. This is generally the period when the actual abnormalities may be visible. With 3D ultrasound technology, these conditions may be detected in a more accurate and pronounced form as the foetus comes of age.

Why it is a step in the right direction?

Personally, I have gone through this stressful situation. It happened in the 21st week of my pregnancy. The doctor pointed out that the single umbilical artery of my foetus. Whether it was negligence or oversight, it was extremely tough carrying on till the actual birth of my child.

Foetuses with single umbilical artery are often at risk of birth defects or congenital deformities. In my case, since it was indicated in the 21st week, the doctor suggested I don’t even need to go for the amniocentesis test. This was done since I didn’t have a choice to abort beyond 20 weeks and under those circumstances it was advisable to only stay positive and pray.

On one hand, technology was advanced enough to indicate the associated risks of the condition of my foetus. At the same time, the legal provision imposed a restriction on my choice as a woman carrying a foetus with abnormalities.

We finally have a choice!

The news of the Act comes as a heart warming piece for women like me, who, now, may have a choice. Some might eventually go ahead and carry forward the pregnancy, given the advancement in science. At the same time, having a choice would mean a stress-free happy pregnancy and women empowerment in real terms.

There will be people who will counter this and say that it will open a plethora of choice for people who indulge in sex determined pregnancy termination. Well, aren’t there still people who throw babies in bath water?

Picture credits: Pexels

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Career Bureaucrat/Mother/Wife/ Workhorse/Hedonist writing under the pen name Tamiyanti Chandra

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