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Abortion law needs review, say doctors

Haresh and Niketa Mehta may be the only couple to have gone to the court to plead for abortion, but they are certainly not the one to have realised that they may have to live with the suffering, writes Neha Bhayana and Kanika Johri. Also see graphics

india Updated: Aug 06, 2008 01:29 IST

Haresh and Niketa Mehta may be the only couple to have gone to the court to plead for abortion, but they are certainly not the one to have realised that they may have to live with the suffering, their child's and their own.

Gynaecologists feel there is an urgent need to review the country's abortion law, which does not permit medical termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks, since certain abnormalities can only be detected after the foetus is 20 weeks old.

"Heart abnormalities are best detected only by an electrocardiography when the foetus is 22 to 24 weeks old. Some neurological abnormalities also become evident only after 20 weeks," said Dr Rishma Pai, consultant gynaecologist with Jaslok Hospital. "We have no choice but to turn away such patients."

Dr Duru Shah, a consultant gynaecologist with Breach Candy Hospital, said approximately one in 1,000 cases of abnormalities in foetus are detected after 20 weeks. The Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of India (FOGSI) has decided to take up the issue at its next meeting on September 19. The organisation, which represents 22,000 gynaecologists across the country, plans to push for an amendment that legalises abortion up to 24 weeks in "exceptional circumstances".

"In 1971, when the abortion law was framed there was hardly any technology. Now, we have technology to diagnose problems in the foetus. But what is the purpose of the technology when we can't offer patients a solution?" said Dr C.M. Purandare, secretary general, FOGSI.

Dr Pundare pointed out that Mumbai has the second highest incidence of Anencephaly - a disorder in which the baby's brain does not develop - after Ireland.

"Such babies are often delivered only after 10 months and are unlikely to live. The disorder can be detected early, but some women go late for an ultrasound," he said, adding that abortions should be allowed in such cases.

Moreover, doctors pointed out that abortion at 24 weeks is not more risky than one at 20 weeks of pregnancy. "The risk factor in termination of pregnancy is less at 10 weeks, but between 16 to 24 weeks it is the same," said Dr Nikhil Datar.

Doctors said the amended law could have safeguards to ensure that it is not misused.

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