Cabinet nods increase in abortion period to 24 from 20 weeks

New Delhi: Medical abortion deadline has now been legally increased from the current 20 to 24 weeks and the Union Cabinet has given its nod on Wednesday.

The extension to 24 weeks will help survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, Minors), etc, the Union Cabinet said in a statement.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill

The Cabinet gave its nod to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, to change the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 and is set to introduce it in the Budget session of Parliament beginning on January 31. The amendment also proposes that the requirement for the opinion of one doctor for termination of pregnancy should be enough up to 20 weeks of gestation, and two doctors for termination between 20 and 24 weeks of gestation.

After the Cabinet meeting, Union minister Prakash Javadekar told reporters the upper limit was increased to ensure safe termination of pregnancies, and also give women reproductive rights over their bodies. The extension will help victims of rape, women with disabilities and minors, who may not realize they are pregnant until later, he said.

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The new amendments specify that the name and other details of a woman who underwent an abortion shall not be revealed except to a person authorized by any law that is in force. “In a progressive reform and giving reproductive rights to women, the limit of 20 weeks of medical termination of pregnancy has been increased to 24 weeks. This is important because in the first 5 months there are cases where the girl concerned doesn’t realize and has to go to court. This was discussed with various stakeholders,” Javadekar said.

Currently, cases in which the pregnancy is beyond 20 weeks go to court and are decided on a case-by-case basis. In 2017, the top court allowed a 13-year-old girl in Mumbai abortion at 32 weeks. The exceptions will continue to happen even after the amendment, but the limit of 24 will mean that fewer cases go to court.

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Experts in the field had always been in favor of increasing the limit for conducting medical termination of pregnancy. “It will help save many precious lives. It is a much-required change in the law,” said a senior gynecologist at New Delhi’s All India Institute for Medical Sciences. “The scans to detect congenital abnormality are done usually between 18 and 20 weeks that give us very little time to plan the abortion. Sometimes women come to us late and even if 20 weeks are over by a day, we can’t legally terminate a pregnancy,” Dr. Anuradha Kapur, director- institute of obstetrics and gynecology, Max Super Specialty Hospital, said.

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