MUMBAI: The Union health ministry on Friday issued a notification stating the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2018, that extends the time limit for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks has “come into force”. However, activists say the law needs “fine-tuning’’.
The amendment does not uniformly extend the 24-week deadline to all women. It applies only to rape survivors, minors and pregnancies with fetal abnormalities. “The most commonly cited reason for abortion is contraception failure. The time limit for this remains 20 weeks,” said city gynecologist Nikhil Datar, who began the drive for changing the time limit for MTP. He said he will not quit his case in the SC.
Dr Nikhil Datar, the city-based gynecologist who began the movement for changing the time limit of medical termination of pregnancy in 2008, said, “I am not planning to withdraw the case from the Supreme Court as there is still some work left to be done.”
Lawyer Anubha Rastogi said, “We were hoping the amendment would be in the form of an acknowledgement of women’s rights, but it has not happened so far.’’ The amended law also is not yet in sync with many other legislations covering the rights of the disabled, mentally ill and transgenders, among others, she said.
She further pointed out, “The rules stating whom the new time limit applies to need to be properly defined. Earlier, doctors would use their medicinal background to assess if continuing a pregnancy would adversely affect a woman’s health, but there are no guidelines yet.’’
In the last five years, over 300 cases have been filed by women seeking medical termination beyond the then-permissible limit of 20 weeks. “A system was created by courts to direct such pleas to a medical board. With the new amendment coming into force, we need to set up such linkages again. A guidance note or a framework has to be there,” said Dr Datar.
In 2008, Dr Datar first moved Bombay high court and then the SC when his patient, Nikita Mehta, wanted to terminate her 24-week pregnancy after a scan showed cardiac anomalies in the foetus. While Mehta did not get permission to terminate the pregnancy and subsequently lost her baby, Dr Datar continued with his plea to extend the 20-week time limit. His reasoning was simple: Some brain and heart anomalies do not show up in scans until after the 20th week.
“We fought the battle and, brick by brick, have managed to get so far, but certain rules need to be laid down with a lot of thought,” he said.