Centre’s new rule on abortion: Rape survivors, minors allowed abortion up to 24 weeks

NEW DELHI: The Central government has decided to increase the time limit for abortion under some special cases. Now, some categories of women and special cases will be allowed to terminate their pregnancies at 24 weeks of gestation, as opposed to 20 weeks, which was the gestations period allowed earlier.

Earlier, abortion required the opinion of one doctor if done within 12 weeks of conception and two doctors if done between 12 and 20 weeks. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Rules have been revised by the Centre for some special cases. The abortion period has been increased for seven categories of women who are survivors of sexual assault, rape, or incest, minors, who got widowed or divorced during pregnancy, and those with physical disabilities. Women who are mentally ill, cases of fetal malformation which might result in physical or mental disabilities, and women in disaster or emergency situations will also be eligible to get an abortion at 24 weeks under the new rule set by the government.

As per the new rules introduced in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, which was passed in March this year, state-level medical boards will be making the decision regarding the termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks in case the woman falls under any of the above-mentioned categories.

The state medical board will be reviewing requests made by women for abortion under any of the mentioned special cases and will be issuing their decision regarding the same within three days of receiving the request.

If approved, the abortion will then have to be done within five days after receiving the request from the woman. The medical board will also have to ensure that the procedure is conducted with proper precautions and care, and the woman has to given proper counseling.

People in the medical community and women’s rights activists are celebrating the move of the central government of increasing the time limit for abortion, while several experts have also argued that this rule should be extended to all women, not just those who fall under the special categories.

“We welcome the new rules under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act notified by the Union Government recently, which are an outcome of the MTP Amendment Act, 2021 passed by Parliament in March this year. However, given the advancements in scientific and medical technology the world has witnessed over the years, the extended 24 week gestation period should be for all women and not just ‘special categories of women,” she said.

“In addition, the creation of state medical boards could potentially create impediments for women’s access to abortion services as many women discover they are pregnant at a later stage,” Muttreja added.

Dr. Jaideep Malhotra, founder of Rainbow IVF and former president of Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, said it is a “much-awaited, sensitive and forward-looking amendment” for both the beneficiaries and the gynaecologists, who faced this turmoil for years and had their hands tied in the face of the law.

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