The Supreme Court ruling permitting a rape victim to abort her 24-week foetus taking into account the danger to both mother and child if the pregnancy were taken to full term should reopen the debate on the need to review the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. In this case, experts found the foetus to suffer from severe abnormalities and it would not have survived much longer. This raises the issue of not only pregnancies arising from rape but also those of foetuses which are either unviable or would result in children being born with abnormalities which would compromise their quality of life severely. The attorney general’s remarks that any relaxation of the permission for abortion after the 20-week period would be subject to misuse, namely would facilitate female foeticide, may be right in letter but there are many instances in which both the foetus and the expecting mother are put in danger by the inflexibility of the law.
Today, doctors feel that terminations can be carried out safely even beyond 24 weeks, thanks to advances in medical science and technology. Many women’s groups have raised the issue of amending the MTP Act. One occasion was when a couple approached the court for a termination after it was found that the foetus had congenital heart problems and would have required a pacemaker on birth. After a protracted legal battle which they lost, the woman in question suffered a miscarriage in her 27th month. The mental trauma of having a child which dies at birth or has no quality of life must also be kept in mind when deciding whether a woman should be forced to continue with a pregnancy. The health ministry has been cognisant of this and has, from 2014, been pushing to amend the law permitting abortions beyond 20 weeks under certain circumstances. The fear of female foeticide is not without merit, but there are laws to prevent this, though these have to be implemented more effectively.
The MTP Act which, is 45 years old now, should have been amended a long time ago so as to spare women the long, and often fruitless, pursuit of getting legal sanction for terminating pregnancies. This issue which is one of women’s rights should be concluded so that women who legitimately need to terminate their pregnancies can do so without the further trauma of pursuing a legal solution. This is also an issue on which there should be no political differences and there is no valid reason why the law should not be in sync with both changing technology and greater autonomy for women.