Church critical of proposed amendment to MTP

The proposed Amendment to Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 has come under severe criticism from church. A report by Aditi Chahar

Syro-Malabar Church and the Archdiocese of Verapoly have come out against the Union Cabinet’s decision to extend the upper time limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks. The Cabinet had approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 on January 29.

Urging the Central government to withdraw the proposed amendment, the Syro-Malabar Synodal Commission on February 2 termed the decision a violation of the right to live.

“Destroying a foetus just three months away from its birth does not suit a country that gives importance to ahimsa,” said a spokesperson of the Church. Stating that the basic aim of a law should be to ensure the welfare of the people, the Commission claimed this amendment would result in more abortions than what happened after the implementation of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

Verapoly Archbishop Dr Joseph Kalathiparambil said the government should take the value of life seriously and refrain from killing more babies by amending the Act. He also urged the elected representatives to come out against the move. “Everyone who understands the value of a life should protest against the Bill. We shouldn’t remain silent when innocent babies are being killed. If we choose not to react, all of us will be responsible for their death. Around 15.6 million abortions took place in India in 2015. If the new Act gets implemented, this number will be doubled. Our land should always remain one that respects and welcomes human life,” the Archbishop said.

“The Catholic church will always be pro-life. We are planning to give a petition to the Central government requesting it not to implement this Act. This will either be done directly by the Verapoly Archdiocese, or along with the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council (KCBC),” said the spokesperson of Verapoly Archdiocese. The Roman catholic Metropolitan Archdiocese is headquartered at Cochin and has administrative control over dioceses at Calicut, Cochin, Kannur, Kottapuram Sultanpet and Vijayspuram.

However, the proposal has found a big supporter in Smriti Zubin Irani, a former model, TV actress and currently the Minister of Women and Child Development and Textiles. She has described it as gender justice because the amendment to MTP Act will give women reproductive rights over their bodies.

The Union Cabinet has cleared a long pending change to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 that raises the legally permissible limit for an abortion to 24 weeks from the current 20 weeks. Following the efforts of the Health Ministry, the change also accepts failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion not just in married but also in unmarried women.

A 2015 study in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics has observed that 10-13% of maternal deaths in India can be attributed to unsafe abortions. Studies have shown that the 20-week limit on abortion is based on outdated medical concepts from the 1970s.

Maternal mortality

Smriti Irani says that the Cabinet decision to approve the MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020, will truly address the needs of gender justice through the prism of reproductive rights, providing a solution which women in our country have sought for decades. This will increase access of women to safe medico legal services and will thus reduce maternal mortality and morbidity arising out of unsafe abortions. The Bill also seeks to strengthen provisions for protecting the dignity and privacy of women who seek the refuge of law when confronted with such a life altering decision. The current amendment not only allows greater autonomy to women, it will also ensure clarity amongst medical practitioners, who have in the past shown inhibition towards pregnancy termination procedures especially in cases of survivors of rape and incest — where survivors were subsequently forced to approach the courts for judicial sanction.

Worldwide, abortion is acknowledged as an important aspect of reproductive health of women. At present, 26 countries including Egypt, Angola, Thailand, the Philippines, Madagascar and Iraq do not permit abortion and 39 countries including Brazil, Mexico, Sudan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka permit abortion when the woman’s life is at risk. The new MTP (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is a milestone which will further empower women, especially those who are vulnerable and victims of rape.

What the Bill entails

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to enhance the upper gestation limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for special categories of women including survivors of rape, victims of incest, minors, differently-abled women etc.

A look at what the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 says that it increases the maximum permissible gestation age for abortion to 24 weeks, with the proviso that for pregnancies that are between 20-24 weeks opinions will be required from two doctors rather than one. The upper gestation limit will not apply in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by a Medical Board.

Sources said that the original draft of the Bill had included the contraceptive failure clause only for married women, which, the Health Ministry has now felt, would have left unmarried women, on whom social pressures to abort are more acute, at the mercy of quacks. That is why in 2016, it sent a recommendation that failure of contraception should be accepted as a legal reason to abort not just in married but also unmarried women and it was accepted.

Now after the Cabinet gave its nod to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and it would be introduced in the ongoing Budget session of Parliament.  The Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the upper limit for permitting abortions has been extended from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks and this will ensure safe termination of pregnancies and also give women reproductive rights over their bodies. The extension will help victims of rape, girls with disabilities as well as minors, who may not realize they are pregnant until later, he said. Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy is terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorized in any law, which is in force.