The Parliament on Tuesday, March 16 passed a bill to raise the upper limit for allowing abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 for "special categories of women" including rape survivors, victims of incest, minors and differently-abled.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was passed by voice vote, reported News18.
The bill was passed by Lok Sabha nearly a year ago.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the amendments to the bill were made after considering global practices and discussion within the country.
"Under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, we will not frame any law which harms women. This is to preserve and protect the dignity of women," the Health Minister said.
Under the new act, "pregnancy in special cases can be terminated where the length of the pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks but does not exceed 24 weeks" if no less than two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality."
The act does not allow medical practitioners to reveal the name and details of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated except to a person authorised by any law during that time.
Anyone who violates privacy norms defined under the act may be punished with imprisonment of up to 1 year or fine or both under the amendments made to the act.
Every state government and union territory need to constitute a medical board including a gynaecologist, a paediatrician, a radiologist and any member as may be notified by the respective government to handle functions under-prescribed by rules.
Shiv Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi said that the decision to terminate a pregnancy impacts a woman mentally, physically and emotionally.
"And for her who is in the advanced stage of pregnancy and a stage where she knows there is a life inside her womb, for her to take that decision is a difficult one indeed. For her across various medical boards with three doctors and some state representatives, I think is extremely demeaning to her, is an invasion of her privacy, invasion of her choice and creating more bureaucratic hurdles needed at the time when she needs to take that decision," she said.
Several members of the opposition also questioned why the bill does not say anything about sex workers.
"The right of making a decision to terminate the pregnancy should be with the women and not with the medical board," Binoy Viswam of the CPI said.
Some even alleged that the act in the current form was against unmarried women. Members of various parties including Congress, Shiv Sena, AITC, CPI, CPI-M and Samajwadi Party had asked to send the bill to the select committee.
Meanwhile, the Union Health minister alleged that the objections made to the bill by some members were aligned with their party ideology.