INDIA – Parliament passes bill to increase upper limits for abortions to over 20 weeks

Until 15 March 2021, women seeking abortion in India required a mandatory opinion of one doctor if it is done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if it is done between 12 and 20 weeks.

Both houses of the Indian parliament (Lok Sabha in March 2020 and Rajya Sabha on 16 March 2021) have now passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which increases the upper time limit for abortions from 20 to 24 weeks for minors and victims of rape and incest, and removes limits in cases of substantial fetal abnormalities.

The bill was passed by a voice vote on 16 March 2021, despite a majority of opposition members demanding that the bill should be sent to a select committee as it lacks a privacy clause. However, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan informed the Parliament that nobody opposed the bill itself and once enacted, it will reduce the trauma and suffering of women. He also said, after the vote: “The amendments have been made keeping global practices in mind. The law will preserve the dignity of women.”

Previously, women seeking abortion required an opinion of one doctor if it was done up to 12 weeks of pregnancy and two doctors if it was done between 12 and 20 weeks. Under the new act, a pregnancy can be aborted on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and from 20 to 24 weeks, two doctors. It also accepts “failure of contraceptive” as a legal reason for abortion in cases of unmarried women, which was previously allowed only for married women.

The new law also sets up state-level Medical Boards to decide if a pregnancy should be terminated beyond 24 weeks in cases of fetal abnormalities, although it was shown earlier this year that these may not be feasible to convene.

Doctors will face up to one year in prison and a fine or both if they disclose the mother’s identity except to an authorised person.

SOURCES: The Health Site, by Longjam Dineshwori, 17 March 2021 ; Tribune India, 16 March 2021 ; PHOTO, woman awaiting IUD, by Jill Filipovic in Time, 22 January 2016