Pune: A recent arrest of a gynacologist in Pune after she performed an MTP on a patient who was more than 20 weeks pregnant, has sparked an age long debate on the law of abortions while fueling the efforts of many medical professionals aiming for amendments in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The case goes back to May 5, 2016, when an FIR was lodged against Dr Neela Desai, a gynaecologist in Pune, after she had performed an MTP on a 21 weeks and 4 days pregnant lady. While the appropriate authority found this in complete violation of MTP Act, 1971, further adding that there was no threat to the life of the patient, the doctor pointed out that the foetus had defects which were picked up by the sonography.
Dr Ashok Desai ( husband of the accused doctor), explained to the Mirror, “The baby had heart and brain defects recorded on the sonography. The woman and her husband came to the Poona Hospital OPD and it just happened to be Dr Neela Desai’s day for appointments. The decision was taken based on the sonography report. Another senior gynaecologist in the hospital was also consulted. The foetus was also clinically small and the abortion was done in good faith. We are running a clean practice. The law is peculiar and authorities take advantage of it,” he said.
The doctor has been reported to have been booked under Section 3 of the MTP Act as well as sections 312 (causing miscarriage not in good faith) and 315 (act being done with intent to prevent child from being born alive or to cause it to die after birth) of the Indian Penal Code.
The issue of abortions in the Indian culture is a tough one. Apart from the issue of human rights of an unborn foetus; declining sex ratio in the country, repeated instances of female foeticides among other reasons have forced the legislators to ensure strict implementation of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and clearly spell out the circumstances in which abortions can/cannot take place.
As per the MTP Act, abortion is legal in India only up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. If the pregnancy is between 12 and 20 weeks, two medical practitioners need to opine that continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life the pregnant woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health. The Act also says that abortion between 12 and 20 weeks could be allowed if the child were to be born with mental or physical abnormalities. Although there is a proposal pending to extend this time to 24 weeks in special circumstances, it has not been passed yet.
Medical Practitioners, on the other hand, have been demanding an increase in the legal period for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. Speaking to Medical Dialogues team, Dr RN Goel explained,” There are many congenital anomalies of the fetus that become visible only in the duration of 20-24 weeks. These include many cardiac anomalies,anomalies of the brain and spine and many more. ” Doctors have pointed out, that government should amend the act to include the valid reasons for MTP after the stipulated time of 20 weeks and empower the women to make a better choice. This inturn would be ensure better quality of life for the mother to be, the unborn child as well as the practitioner acting in good faith.
Instead of punishing the doctor, who must have carried out the procedure in good faith without understanding the gravity of the legal risk she was inviting, politicians should table the amended MTP Act, quotes DNA
It is not just doctors, that have shown a bend towards the said amendments. In the year 2014, the National Commission of Women had recommended to the Union health ministry to allow abortions till 24 weeks of pregnancy. Following this, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare department proposed an amendment to the MTP Act to allow for the same.
However its been two years now, the amendment is yet to be tabled and passed with the parliament.