The liberalisation of abortion rules in tune with the medical advancements and reproductive rights of women has been long overdue. The 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which imposes a 20-week limit beyond which abortion is prohibited, is regressive and out of sync with the 21st century realities. This has, in fact, proved tragic in many cases. A brutally raped minor was forced to give birth to her rapist’s child after a high court denied her request for abortion because by the time her petition was heard her pregnancy had crossed the 20-week limit prescribed by the law. There can be no greater injustice than this. The situation will, hopefully, change for the better now with the Union Cabinet giving nod for amendments to the Act seeking to raise the permission limit from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. This is a progressive move as it strengthens access to comprehensive abortion care without compromising on service and quality of safe abortion. Several petitions were filed in the courts in recent times seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at a gestational age beyond the permissible limit on grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence. The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women. The MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020, set to be introduced in Parliament soon, represents one of the most liberal abortion legislations in the world. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the incidence of unsafe abortions is significantly higher in developing countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, compared with the developed countries.
Though abortion is acknowledged as an important aspect of reproductive health of women, very few countries like China, Russia, Canada, Australia and South Africa permit abortion on request, mostly up to 12 weeks. As many as 26 countries do not permit abortion while 39 others permit medical termination of pregnancy when the woman’s life is at risk. Given this global scenario, India is now proposing a highly progressive law, which allows legal abortions on a broad range of therapeutic, humanitarian and social grounds. A report from the Guttmacher Institute, a global research and policy organisation on sexual and reproductive health, released in March 2018, had said that as of 2017, 42% of women of reproductive age lived in 125 countries with highly restrictive abortion laws—prohibited altogether, or allowed only to save a woman’s life or to protect her health. The proposed amendment not only allows greater autonomy to women but will also ensure clarity among medical practitioners, who are generally reluctant to conduct pregnancy termination procedures, especially in cases of survivors of rape and incest where the victims are subsequently forced to approach the courts for judicial sanction.