The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 alters the MTPA
1971 to raise the upper limit for abortion from 20 to 24 weeks for certain types
of women. The Amendment raises the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for
particular groups of women, which would be described in the MTPA 2021 and would
include rape survivors, incest victims, and other vulnerable women (such as
differently-abled women, minors), among others.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 (MTPA 2021) was
approved on the 16th of March, 2021 thereby amending the provisions of the
Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTPA 1971). The Act in general
governs when and how pregnancy can be terminated. The bill extends the time
frame for abortion.
This amendment is a welcome step towards the safety and well-being of the women
in the country. There were several petitions which have been recently filed in
the courts asking for authority to abort unwanted pregnancies at a gestational
age beyond the current permissible limit due to foetal abnormalities or
pregnancies caused by sexual assault. The amendments aim to broaden the scope of
safe abortion services available to women and ensure their dignity, autonomy,
secrecy, and justice for women who need to end their pregnancies.
Some of the key takeaways of the amendment in a nutshell are:
- Raising the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for particular
groups of women, which would be described in the MTPA 2021 and would include rape
survivors, incest victims, and other vulnerable women (such as differently-abled
women, minors), among others.
- If an abortion is performed within 12 weeks of conception, one doctor's
opinion is required; if the abortion is performed between 12 and 20 weeks,
two doctors' opinions are required.
- The bill enables abortion on the recommendations of one doctor up to 20
weeks, and two doctors between 20 and 24 weeks for specific categories of
Is Terminating a Pregnancy a Criminal Offence in India?
Voluntarily terminating a pregnancy is a criminal offence under the Indian Penal
Code, 1860 (IPC). The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 authorizes
medical doctors (with specific specialization) to abort a pregnancy on certain
grounds. Pregnancy can be terminated at any time up to 12 weeks if one doctor
agrees, and up to 20 weeks if two doctors agree. Only where the pregnancy's
continuation will endanger the pregnant woman's life, cause grave harm to her
mental or physical health (including rape and refusal to utilize birth control),
or result in foetal abnormalities is it permissible to terminate the pregnancy.
Termination is also permitted at any time during the pregnancy if it is
necessary to save the life of the woman concerned.
It alters the MTPA 1971 to raise the upper limit for abortion from 20 to 24
weeks for certain types of women, removes the limit in cases of significant
foetal abnormalities, and establishes state-level Medical Boards. According to
Bill's Statement of Objects and Reasons, multiple cases have been brought in the
Supreme Court and different High Courts requesting authorization to terminate
pregnancies at stages beyond the Act's 20-week restriction based on foetal
abnormalities or pregnancies in cases of rape. It also adds that as medical
technology advances, the maximum limit for terminating pregnancies may be
raised, particularly for vulnerable women and in situations of severe foetal
Grounds for Terminating a Pregnancy:
In general, there are two opposing viewpoints on the legalization of abortions.
According to one viewpoint, terminating a pregnancy is the pregnant woman's
option and a part of her reproductive rights. The alternative viewpoint is that
the state commits to safeguard life and, as a result, the foetus should be
protected. Depending on considerations such as foetal viability (the point at
which the foetus can live outside the womb), foetal abnormalities, or harm to
the pregnant mother, various countries across the globe have imposed varied
requirements and time restrictions for legalizing abortions.
In India, The MTPA 1971 was created as an exemption to the IPC to allow
certified medical practitioners to terminate certain pregnancies. The Bill does
not identify which women are eligible to terminate pregnancies between 20 and 24
weeks and instead leaves it to be determined by rules. Such topics, it may be
claimed, should be specified by Parliament rather than delegated to the
A married woman may terminate a pregnancy up to 20 weeks after the failure of a
contraceptive technique or device under the Act. Unmarried women can also
terminate a pregnancy for this reason under the Bill.
Powers of the Medical Board:
A Medical Board will be formed by all state and union territory administrations.
The Board will decide whether or not a pregnancy can be ended beyond 24 weeks
owing to significant foetal abnormalities. The state government will appoint a
gynecologist, pediatrician, radiologist/sonologist, and other members to each
Is the Amendment Inclusive of Transgender?
Under certain instances, the Act and the Bill allow “pregnant women” to
terminate their pregnancies. It's worth noting that India's Transgender Persons
(Protections and Rights) Act, 2019, recognizes transgender as a separate gender.
According to certain medical research, people who identify as transgender (and
not necessarily as women) may get pregnant after taking hormone therapy to
transition from female to male, necessitating termination services. It's unclear
if transgender people will be protected by the Bill because it only covers the
termination of pregnancies for women.
What is the outcome of this amendment?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2021 aims at expanding
access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic,
humanitarian, or social grounds for women. The amendments include the
substitution of certain sub-sections, insertion of certain new clauses under
some sections in the existing Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, to
increase the upper gestation limit for termination of pregnancy under certain
conditions and to strengthen access to comprehensive abortion care, under strict
conditions, without compromising service and quality of safe abortion.
Despite these positive changes in the country's reproductive rights for women,
abortion has always sparked heated moral, ethical, political, and legal
disputes. Because abortion is a fulcrum of a much greater ideological conflict
in which the fundamental meanings of the family, the state, motherhood, and
women's sexuality are fought, it is not simply a medico-technical issue anymore.
The Supreme Court of India in the case of K.S. Puttaswamy v. Union Of India
already established that reproductive choice is personal liberty guaranteed
under Article 21 of the Indian constitution. Despite creating a robust
jurisprudence on reproductive rights and the privacy of a woman, Article 21 of
the Indian constitution does not translate into a major transfer of power from
the doctor to the woman seeking an abortion. As a result, abortion is still
linked to state-sanctioned conditions rather than a woman's rights.