Abortion the world over is a sensitive topic. Arguments cut both ways. Each country has its own time limit within which the pregnancy may be terminated, but in most cases it’s more than 20 weeks. Given the advancements in medical science, a lot of abnormalities can be determined by an ultrasound midway through a pregnancy. Unfortunately, there appear to be no guidelines relating to the conduct of ultrasounds.
On July 24, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar had directed doctors from P.G.I., Chandigarh, to medically examine the girl and file a report in court on whether the “health of the girl child concerned, who is stated to be of the age of 10 years, and also that of the foetus, would be adversely affected, if the pregnancy is continued for the full term”.
Reason of Rejection:
An abortion will endanger both the girl and her 32-week-old foetus.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 bars abortion if the foetus has crossed the 20-week mark.
An exception to the law is made if a registered medical practitioner certifies to a court that the continued pregnancy is life-threatening for either the mother or the baby.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act stipulates a cap of 20 weeks within which an abortion can be performed.
While advising an abortion, medical practitioners are expected to evaluate whether continuing with the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the mother or cause grave injury to her physical and mental health.
Alternatively, the decision is based on whether there would be a substantial risk of the child being handicapped by physical or mental abnormalities.
Notably, the Act also provides that if any of these medical eventualities is likely to arise, then the mother’s actual or foreseeable environment must also be taken into consideration.
At present women are forced to undertake the tiresome process of approaching different courts, from district courts to high courts and finally the Supreme Court, for permission to medically terminate their pregnancies which are over 20 weeks.
An amended Bill of the 1971 law which extends the bar from 20 to 24 weeks has been in the cold storage for the past three years.
This draft Bill allows women, whose pregnancies are within 24 weeks, reproductive rights in consultation with their medical practitioners.
The draft Bill also allows abortion beyond 24 weeks in case the foetus suffers from substantial abnormalities.
Legal restrictions on abortion do not result in fewer abortions nor do they result in significant increases in birth rates.
Conversely, laws and policies that facilitate access to safe abortion do not increase the rate or number of abortions.
The principal effect is to shift previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones.
Restricting legal access to abortion does not decrease the need for abortion, but it is likely to increase the number of women seeking illegal and unsafe abortions, leading to increased morbidity and mortality.
Laws and policies on abortion should protect women’s health and their human rights. Regulatory, policy and programmatic barriers that hinder access to and timely provision of safe abortion care should be removed. As a starting point, we need uniformity in medical standards. Simultaneously, the long-pending Bill, which took into account some of the changed circumstances, needs to get passed. It would be helpful alongside to also lay down objective standards to be followed by health-care providers so that every case does not fall in the court’s cradle. If the cord isn’t cut, we will continue to rely on court-ordered termination of pregnancies, which, most times, is not the desired route for the delivery of justice in abortion cases.