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SC sparks debate again : Should the legal limit of MTP be raised to 24 weeks ?

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court issued notice to the Attorney General and Maharashtra on a plea by a rape victim seeking termination of her 24-week-old pregnancy due to the abnormal growth of foetus.

A bench of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar, Justice Kurian Joseph and Justice Arun Mishra directed the hearing on Friday after going through the doctor’s report which said that stomach of the foetus was uncovered and as a result, the intestines were growing outside it.

Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves told the court that medical report says that the foetus’s skull too was not fully developed, and holds chances of the survival of the foetus were from zero to a few hours.The petitioner has sought the direction of the court for the termination of her pregnancy as under Section 3(2) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, the pregnancy beyond 20 weeks could not be terminated. She has also challenged the constitutional validity of the provision.

However, under Section 5 of the MTP Act, pregnancy beyond 20 weeks could be terminated only if there is a threat to the life of the mother.

It is reported that in the instant case there is no threat to the life of the mother but foetus is abnormal and the chances of its survival are remote.

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The petitioner has contended that this ceiling of 20 weeks could have been justified when this law was enacted in 1971 but it does not hold ground today given the advancement in technology that allows safe termination of pregnancy even after 20 weeks right up to 26 weeks.It has further contended that the artificially fixing of upper limit of 20 weeks MTP was arbitrary as women who get the reports of serious foetal abnormality after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony on account of the deliveries that they are forced to go through.

Senior counsel Gonsalves told the court that in conformity with international laws, Albania, Australia, Belgium, Canada, China, Croatia, Denmark, Iceland, Israel, Luxembourg, Nepal, Netherlands, Slovakia, South Africa, Britain, and the US have not fixed any absolute time limits in their abortion laws.
Instead, the senior counsel told the court, these countries consider the woman’s physical and mental health and doctors’ expert opinions in determining whether a medical termination of pregnancy can be performed post 20 weeks.
MTP can happen if the delivery poses threat to the mother’s life. But what about the quality of the life of the unborn child?
In the instant case there is no threat to the life of the mother but foetus is abnormal and the chances of its survival are remote.
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. In an earlier interview with 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.

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.

Should the legal limit of MTP be raised to 24 weeks?

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Source: with inputs from agencies
6 comment(s) on SC sparks debate again : Should the legal limit of MTP be raised to 24 weeks ?

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  1. user
    Dr suresh mundra July 23, 2016, 11:26 pm

    Only in cases of abnormal fetuses
    And in cases of unmarried girl
    With Late detection of pregnancy

  2. Termination of normal Pregnancy for Family limitation and population stabilisation should be limited only to first trimester
    Abnormal fetal termination should go under PCPNDT Act

  3. A separate Act for termination of Life threatening abnormal fetuses can also be undertaken

  4. I did a literature review sometime ago regarding the termination of pregnancy beyond 22 weeks in case of fetal abnormality where the defect would lead to no survival are highly reduced quality of life the fetus post delivery. As it is said in this news most of the counrties carry out termination irrespective of gestational age with an informed consent taken from the parents and the decision should be from a multidisciplneary team including Obstetrician/Fetal medicine expert , Neonatologist, Paediatric surgeon etc. Thanks to USG availability even in Peripheral health centres we do not encounter the abnormal fetuses like anaencephaly anymore at term as they are diagnosed before 20 weeks. the problem is late onset Hydocephalous and its severe form only
    So one can list the abnormalities and prenatal diagnosis of Chromosomal anomalies as indications and certification by a multidisciplenary team only at Govt Institutions and pass the Act. Record the pictures , MRI etc certify by the Sonographer prior and post abortal state by Forensic expert/fetal medicine expert

  5. user
    Bhupinder Singh Rahal July 23, 2016, 4:25 pm

    Better to increase it to 24wks.

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