A Mumbai couple’s failed plea for abortion has prompted the health ministry to review the law that allows abortions till the 20th week of pregnancy.
A high-level committee under Naresh Dayal, Union health secretary, and Dr N.K. Ganguly, biotechnology fellow with the Department of Science and Technology, has been asked to make recommendations to update the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
The MTP review has come within a month of Mumbai couple Niketa and Haresh Mehta moving Bombay High Court to be allowed to abort their 24-week-old foetus with a congenial heart defect. The court turned their plea down.
“Huge strides have been made in foetal medicine, with foetal magnetic resonance imaging, 3-D ultrasonography, genomics and minimally invasive techniques, making it possible to identify several congenital defects and diseases before a child is born. These technologies were not available when the MTP Act was made in 1971, so like in any other evolving field, we will give recommendations based on more current information,” Dr Ganguly told HT.
Dr Ganguly is the former director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research.
Under India’s MTP Act, registered doctors can abort foetuses till “the pregnancy does not exceed twenty weeks” if the continuance of the pregnancy is a threat to the pregnant woman’s physical or mental health, or if “there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped”.
The trauma caused by failure of contraception used is also treated as a threat to a woman’s mental health.
Advances in imaging have improved diagnosis of several foetal malformations and the baby’s chances of survival after birth. “The act has to be reviewed keeping in mind how new technologies can inform the parents’ decision. Some, like Biden, may choose to have a baby with Down’s syndrome, but others may not want to go through the anguish of watching their child undergo multiple surgeries for congenital defects,” said Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss. “The experts will study new scientific findings and abortions laws in other countries before giving its recommendations,” he added.
In countries such as the UK, abortions are allowed till 24 weeks of pregnancy. In May this year, British Parliament rejected attempts to cut the upper limit for abortions from 24 to 22 weeks.