In A Welcome Move, India Passes A Law To Extend Abortion Limit To 24 Weeks

In A Welcome Move, India Passes A Law To Extend Abortion Limit To 24 Weeks

The cabinet on Wednesday extended the upper limit for permitting abortions to 24 weeks, from the current 20 weeks. Union minister Prakash Javadekar called the move a "progressive reform that gives women reproductive rights over their bodies". 

This decision has come four months after the government told the Supreme Court that the right to reproductive autonomy does not outweigh the state's interest in protecting a foetus' life. The centre added that the 20-week limit cannot be extended in a blanket manner.

Addressing the press, Mr Javadekar said, "This is important because in first five months there are cases where the girl concerned doesn't realise and has to go to court," the minister added, saying that this was a demand from a section of women and doctors."

Abortion has been legal in India for 48 years now since the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was passed in 1971. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill (2020) to amend the MTP (1971) will be introduced in the next parliament session.

However, it is important to note that abortion is yet to become a woman's right in India. In an affidavit to the Supreme Court, the ministry of health and family welfare dismissed a PIL that sought complete autonomy for a woman to determine whether or not to continue with her pregnancy, stating "A pregnant woman's right to abort her pregnancy is not an absolute right, and the right to abortion must be balanced against the compelling state interest of protecting the mother's health and the life of the foetus/unborn child."

Medical professionals have welcomed the move. Dr Noser Shariar is a gynaecologist based out of Mumbai told a leading publication, "This is wonderful news. Although, 10 years ago, we had asked for extending the abortion limit to 28 weeks. 24 weeks is ideal for vulnerable women, rape survivors and unmarried women--especially as is the case of adolescents, there is a tendency to hide and the shame and trauma linked to the pregnancy translate to late reporting.”

However, some experts have also pointed out that until the woman has absolute right over her abortion, the law is not pro-choice. "The minister has used a ‘preaching’ tone. Women are still being looked at as ‘victims’ who didn’t get to know of the abnormality on time. Until and unless the decision of abortion lies with a medical practitioner and not with a woman herself, the law will not be pro-choice and pro-rights,” Dr Puneet Bedi, gynaecologist and obstetrician at Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, told the publication.

"A truly progressive step would entail a law that lets a woman — regardless of her marital status, pregnancy condition or the state of her fetus — terminate her pregnancy by her own will,” added Dr Bedi.

We agree with Dr Bedi and hope that the government recognises a woman's decision to abort a foetus as an absolute right.

Featured Image: Shutterstock

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