news Saturday, July 18, 2015 - 05:30
  Amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act have been delayed for about several years now. Had these come through, a minor rape survivor in Gujarat may have not have had to go through with her pregnancy. She is 24 weeks pregnant and Indian law does not allow abortions beyond 20 weeks. On Friday, her father approached the Ahmedabad High Court seeking permission for the medical termination. By the time the pregnancy came to light, it had crossed the limit of medical termination as specified by Indian law. Internationally however, several countries permit conditional abortions for up to 24 weeks. In the United Kingdom, abortions are permitted up to 24 weeks, while in Spain the limit is 22 weeks. The medical community and health rights groups have long been demanding that the law be amended to permit abortions up to 24 weeks, in line with medical opinion. Although this argument comes from medical technicalities, it would also benefit more women, and as in this case, children who have been raped, whose pregnancies often come to light rather late. Although it was one of the first countries to pass a law that permitted abortions, India’s legislation is rooted in the imperative to control population, which was prevalent during the 1970s. Although the law is liberal – a woman does not require the consent of her husband to undergo an abortion – prejudice of health workers and doctors coupled with an apathetic government that pays little heed to create awareness and put in place the necessary infrastructure means that half of the seven million abortions performed in the country are illegal. Even legal ones pose serious health risks for women. In most countries permissibility of abortions is framed in terms of its effect on the mental and physical well-being of the pregnant woman. In India too, it is this which underpins the demand for extension of up to 24 weeks, along with the undesirability of forcing women to have unwanted children when serious foetal abnormalities have been detected. Mumbai-based gynaecologist Nikhil Datar recently published a paper in the British Medical Journal, emphasizing the need for the act to be amended immediately. He said that certain foetal abnormalities could only be detected around 18 weeks and test results came only three weeks later, forcing women to have babies which might have serious medical conditions against their wishes. This situation puts women and couples under tremendous pressure. Public Health Researcher with Karnataka Janarogya Chaluvali Akhila Vasan told The News Minute that cases such as those of girls who became pregnant after they had been raped needed to be handled with extreme care. She said that when international laws permitted abortions up to 24 weeks, based on medical knowledge, perhaps certain exceptions could be made as long as there was no risk to the child’s health. Recalling the case of a girl who had approached the group in Karnataka, she said that in her case too, the pregnancy had been detected quite late. The girl had delivered the baby a few days ago, Akhila said. “No one pays attention to such cases. The child now says she will keep the baby, as a certain bond tends to develop, but her entire life has been affected,” Akhila says. As for the amendment to the law, Akhila says that reproductive health rights groups have been working on this for decades, but sometimes it takes incidents of a horrific nature to wake people up. “Look what happened in the Nirbhaya case. People were working on it (amendments to the law) for years, but it took one case for something to happen. Unless something happens, people don’t take notice.”
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