Under the recent notification by the Central Government, new rules are framed as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Rules, 2021. It defines the new categories of vulnerable women who will be allowed to terminate the foetus up to 24 weeks since conception.
Key Provisions of the MTP Amendment Act, 2021:
Upper Gestation Limit for Special Categories:
- Minors, survivors of sexual assault, those with foetal malformation are some of the categories of vulnerable women who are allowed termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks upon meeting certain conditions and with the permission of two doctors.
Termination due to Failure of Contraceptive Method or Device:
- Under the Act, a married woman may terminate her pregnancy up to 20 weeks in the case of failure of contraceptive method or device. It allows unmarried women to also terminate a pregnancy for this reason. Earlier permission of one doctor for termination up to 12 weeks and two doctors for 12 to 20 weeks was needed.
Opinion Needed for Termination of Pregnancy:
- Opinion of one Registered Medical Practitioner (RMP) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation.
- Opinion of two Registered Medical Practitioners for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
- In case of substantial foetal abnormalities, the opinion of the State-level medical board is essential for a pregnancy to be terminated after the period of 24 weeks.
In case the identity of such women is revealed, the offender will be liable to a fine and imprisonment, which may extend up to the period of one year if the charges of breaching the confidentiality of such women are proved.
Comparison with the Previous Act
Why the need for such an Amendment?
These Amendments have been introduced in light of the fact that under several cases, it was found that minors were approaching the court for seeking permission to terminate pregnancies beyond the period of 20 weeks. Therefore, to address this issue and to reduce their misery, minors have also been included as a special category under the new rules. Apart from the minors, a significant number of women with foetal abnormalities and rape survivors were also seeking legal extensions to terminate their foetuses.
Especially in the case of minors, the detection of pregnancies is often delayed. Therefore, it becomes critical for them to get the required care. Also, in our country, there is a social stigma attached to adolescent sex.
Conflict with POCSO Act
However, the rules appear to be obstructed by the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, also known as the POCSO Act of 2012. Section 19 of the POCSO Act casts a duty upon the informer to report such incident of sexual intercourse even though with the consent of the minor because, as per the law, consent by a person below the age of 18, does not amount to consent and thus, a penal offence under POCSO.
The attempt to broaden the legal definition of vulnerable women is an appreciable step as it will reduce the pain of such women who were looking for other means to terminate the foetus, which may cost the life of such women. Therefore, it can lead to improving the rate of maternal mortality rates which were caused while operated by untrained staff due to lack of legal recognition.
Also, there is a need to fight against the social stigma of teenage pregnancy. We need to be less judgemental so that minors do not hesitate to express their need for abortion. It can be done by increasing awareness among the girls as a part of education. It is the need of the hour to ensure that contraception services are accessible to the public.
Social change is slow, and hence, collective efforts are required in this direction to ensure reproductive rights to women.