Hyderabad: Rajya Sabha on Tuesday passed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that that allows abortion up to 24 weeks for special categories of women.
Currently, abortion requires the opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception, and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.
The bill also ensures that women get access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian grounds.
The Bill allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks. For a pregnancy to be terminated after 24 weeks in case of substantial fetal abnormalities, the opinion of the state-level medical board is essential.
"The bill will protect the dignity and rights of women," tweeted Union health minister Harsh Vardhan after the passing of the bill.
A historic bill ensuring dignity, safety & wellbeing of women! The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020 passed in #RajyaSabha today will enhance access to comprehensive abortion care for women in need & strengthen confidentiality clause as well.@MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/IGJCRNd9RC— Dr Harsh Vardhan (@drharshvardhan) March 16, 2021
A historic bill ensuring dignity, safety & wellbeing of women! The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill 2020 passed in #RajyaSabha today will enhance access to comprehensive abortion care for women in need & strengthen confidentiality clause as well.@MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/IGJCRNd9RC
The bill seeks to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. However, the bill does not specify the special categories of women. The bill leaves the categories to be defined by the states in the amendments to the MTP rules and includes survivors of rape, victims of incest, and other vulnerable women like differently-abled women and minors.
The Bill was passed by Lok Sabha in March last year.
Opinions however differ over allowing abortions. Some say terminating a pregnancy is the choice of the pregnant woman and a part of her reproductive rights. Others say that the state has an obligation to protect life and hence should provide for the protection of the fetus.
The Bill allows abortion after 24 weeks only in cases where a Medical Board diagnoses substantial fetal abnormalities. This implies that for a case requiring abortion due to rape, that exceeds 24-weeks, the only recourse remains through a Writ Petition in the court.
Also, the bill says required abortion to be performed only by doctors with a specialization in gynecology or obstetrics. Recently in parliament, the Union Ministry of Health said there is a 75% shortage of specialization in gynecology or obstetrics in community health centers in rural areas. Pregnant women may continue to find it difficult to access facilities for safe abortions.
Many opposition members of the Rajya Sabha had requested to send the bill to the select committee of the house for review. The government declined the request and passed the bill.