The Union Cabinet on Wednesday approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
In a significant move ensuring reproductive rights to women, the Centre has decided to increase the limit on termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks.
The move is aimed at discouraging informal termination of pregnancies and reducing the maternal mortality rate.
The Bill will be introduced in the upcoming session of Parliament.
Section 3(2) (b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 prohibits abortion of a foetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Several petitioners in the Supreme Court have sought to raise the cap for terminating the pregnancy from the existing 20 weeks to 24 or 26 weeks, and also quashing of a provision which restricts abortions in cases where it is necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.
In reply to the petitions, the Centre had in September last told the top court that a pregnant woman does not have the absolute right to abort her pregnancy.
The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in an affidavit contended that a woman’s right to abortion has to be balanced against compelling state’s interest, which is aimed at protecting the health of the mother and the life of the unborn child, and therefore the 20-week ceiling for the abortion cannot be extended.
The Centre added that the unborn child is not capable to protect itself from harm, which in the form of abortion, is created by the mother.
The affidavit said that it is a settled law that personal freedom of choice of an individual cannot curtail the freedom or choice of other individuals, which includes the foetus as it is the most vulnerable and cannot offer defence in adverse circumstances.
“Unborn children cannot protect itself from the harm designed by his/her own mother”, said the affidavit.
The Indian Penal Code criminalises abortion. The law sanctions punishment for the mother as well as for the abortionist if they were to abort a child where the life of the mother is not at risk. Currently, abortion after 20 weeks is allowed only if the life of mother is in danger, or the foetus cannot survive.