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Minister for Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan introduced the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in the Lok Sabha. The bill, which was approved last month by the cabinet, seeks to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from the current 20 weeks to 24 weeks.

The bill seeks to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and aims to expand access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds.

It also extends the contraceptive-failure clause for termination to include “any woman or her partner” in place of the present provision for “only married woman or her husband”.

According to the government, this proposed bill will ensure safe termination of pregnancies and also give women reproductive rights over their bodies.

The extension to 24 weeks will also help survivors of rape, specially-abled girls as well as minors, who may not realise they are pregnant until later.

Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy is terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorised in any law which is in force.

However, the “upper gestation limit” for medical termination of pregnancy will not be applicable in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities as diagnosed by the Medical Board.

It was in 2018 that a parliamentary panel had recommended permitting abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy and allowing unmarried women to medically terminate pregnancies to prevent them from turning to “fake clinics” that perform unsafe abortions.

The health ministry made the first move towards raising the ceiling from 20 weeks to 24 weeks in July 2019 in an affidavit submitted before the Delhi High Court.

Some of the salient features of the proposed bill are:

  • The Bill proposes the requirement of the opinion of one registered medical practitioner (instead of two or more) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation (foetal development period from the time of conception until birth).
  • It also introduces the requirement of the opinion of two registered medical practitioners for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
  • It aims to enhance the gestation limit for ‘special categories’ of women which includes survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women like differently-abled women and minors.
  • It also states that the “name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed”, except to a person authorised in any law that is currently in force.
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