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MTP ACT: A New Scope

Post by on Monday, August 22, 2022

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Srinagar, Aug 21: Upholding the reproductive rights of women, the Supreme Court of India recently expanded the scope of abortion law and allowed a single woman to terminate her 24 weeks pregnancy after the Delhi High Court declined to allow it, citing the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.

In a significant judgment, the apex court while allowing an unmarried woman to end her ongoing pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship held that the petitioner cannot be denied the benefit of the law on the ground that she was unmarried, when the same choice is available to other categories of women. 

The three-judge bench, D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and A.S. Bopanna said that allowing the petitioner to suffer an unwanted pregnancy would be contrary to the intent of the law enacted by the parliament.

Taking liberal view to interpret provisions of clause (c) of Rule 3B of MTP (Amendment) Act of 2021, the court said that the legislation intended to include unmarried and single women within the ambit of the Act as the words “married woman was replaced with any woman and husband was replaced with partner” with an intention to not confine it to marital relationships only.

Earlier, the MTP Act, 1971 was enacted by the Parliament to reduce the incidence of illegal abortion and resultant maternal mortality and morbidity.

The Act of 1971 allowed abortion up to 20 weeks provided two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion that the continuance of pregnancy would involve risk to the life of pregnant women or of grave injury to her physical and mental health or where there is a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities.

It also allowed termination of pregnancy caused by rape while holding that the anguish caused by such pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.

The law authorised married women to terminate unwanted pregnancy caused due to failure of contraceptives methods.

The Act prohibited the termination of pregnancy of women at any place other than in a hospital established or maintained by the government or a place being approved for the purpose of this Act by the government.

In 2021, the law was modified by the parliament of India to expand the benefit of the law not only to the married women but also to the unmarried ones.

The MTP (Amendment) Act 2021, empowers women by providing comprehensive abortion care to all and allows unmarried women to terminate unwanted pregnancy up to 20 weeks in case of failure of contraceptive method or devices.

The new Act enhanced the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women including survivors of rape, victims of incest, minors, differently-abled women, mentally ill, and a married woman whose relationship status has changed during pregnancy (widowhood and divorce).

It allowed the abortions based on the advice of one doctor for pregnancies up to 20 weeks and needs the opinion of two doctors for pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks.

However, the length of the pregnancy is not applicable for termination in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by a Medical Board including a Gynaecologist, Paediatrician, Radiologist or Sonologist and any other members notified by the State or UT government.

The law safeguards registered medical practitioners by laying down certain conditions under which they can terminate the pregnancy.

Before 1971, abortion was illegal in India and was criminalised under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860. Under Section 312 of the IPC, 1860, the provider of abortion services could face imprisonment of up to three years and of up to seven years for the woman seeking those services. Exception was allowed in the case of miscarriage to save the life of the pregnant woman “in good faith.”

 

MTP Act, 1971 was enacted by the Parliament to reduce the incidence of illegal abortion and resultant maternal mortality and morbidity.

 

In 2021, the law was modified by the parliament of India to expand the benefit of the law not only to the married women but also to the unmarried ones.

 

The MTP (Amendment) Act 2021, empowers women by providing comprehensive abortion care to all and allows unmarried women to terminate unwanted pregnancy up to 20 weeks in case of failure of contraceptive method or devices.

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