Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act Under Scanner

by Thilaka Ravi on Jul 31 2008 3:47 PM

Bombay High Court will hear on Friday a petition filed by a gynecologist and a teacher couple, seeking an amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act to allow abortions beyond 20 weeks.

The law in India at present permits conditional abortions within 20 weeks of pregnancy.

A division bench of Justice J N Patel and Justice K A Tated on Tuesday constituted a committee headed by the dean of JJ Hospital to examine the pregnant woman and submit a report to the court by Friday.

The couple has urged the court to allow the abortion after they discovered that their unborn child suffers from a congenital heart condition.

The petitioners have taken recourse to the extraordinary jurisdiction of the court under Article 226 and the fundamental right to life of Article 21 of the Constitution to plead their case before the court.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was enacted in India in 1971 with a view to prevent female feticide. The law prohibits abortions beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy, which is the time when the sex of a fetus can be determined. Any violation of the law can penalize a couple with an imprisonment of two to seven years.

The petitioner mentioned as Mrs. Y in the court papers, who is pregnant with her first child, discovered that her unborn child was suffering from a congenital complete heart block during a routine check up in the 24th week. One pediatrician observed that soon after the baby was born it would require the placement of a pacemaker that lasts for 4 or 5 years. This means that the child would require at least five pacemaker replacement surgeries throughout life. Doctors noted that this would “seriously compromise the life of the child’’ and also expressed fears of a possible “intra-uterine death of the fetus”’.

The petition also said that Mrs. Y, who is a schoolteacher, “does not want to have a compromised quality of life for her own child and cannot afford the extraordinarily expensive treatment, which may or may not give results.”

Dr Nikhil Datar, the Goregaon based gynecologist who is seeking an amendment to the MTP Act claimed that he had come across many such cases where, due to the stringent law, many women go to quacks “seeking unsafe abortions and risking their own life.” The doctor also pointed out that in the United Kingdom, medical termination of pregnancy is allowed up to the 26th week.

The petition has urged the court to strike down the provision that makes abortion illegal after 20 weeks, and to allow such medical termination of pregnancy in cases where the life of the mother or the child is in danger.

Many doctors are of the opinion that India’s 20-week cut-off for abortion is outdated. “We support raising the limit to 24 weeks in cases when the fetus is not viable or the mother’s life is in danger,” said Jaydeep Tank, chairperson of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Committee of the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecological Societies of India.