Scientific advancement has enlightened us that the time limit to have an abortion till an extended period of 24 weeks of pregnancy is medically safe. In fact, technology we live in can allow safe abortions even beyond the 24 weeks pregnancy period. This was required to be realised by law and make the much needed legal changes that allows medical abortion to be extended from 20 weeks to 24 weeks. In line with this, the Union Cabinet had approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 wherein it was proposed for extension of the upper limit for abortions to 24 weeks. Thereafter, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 came in to force from 24th September 2021. This confirms that an abortion may be carried out up to the 24th week of pregnancy at the abortion hospital in Chennai.
Abortion up to 24 weeks benefits a category of women
As per the new guidelines, the gestational limit for termination of a pregnancy in India has been increased from 20 to 24 weeks for some categories of women. If the woman is less than 17 days overdue, the mandatory five-day wait time does not apply. The category of women includes mentally ill women, conditions of substantial risk in pregnancy due to physical or mental foetal abnormalities and women in disasters or emergency situations as declared by the government. New guidelines of extended abortion permit is also applicable to women survivors of sexual assault, rape or incest, minors, women who may become widowed or divorced during pregnancy and those with physical disabilities. Thus, higher limit extension of abortion to 24 weeks is expected to help survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women.
Abortion till 24 weeks is a progressive reform
The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 is a step towards safety and well-being of the women and many women will be benefitted by this. Safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds can be accessed till an extended 24 weeks gestational period. The increase in gestational age has promises to ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need an abortion.
The MTP Amendment Act 2021 is a progressive reform that gives reproductive rights to women up to 24 weeks of gestation. This has come as a major reform among unmarried abortion in Chennai because maternal mortality can be considerably reduced in cases where the girl doesn’t realise that she is pregnant and has to go to court to avail an abortion with the risk of delay involved in it or seek unsafe abortion methods.
There have been certain instances in the past where foetal abnormalities or maternal risk factors come to be known after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In such cases, the MTP Act required an approval from the court, for the woman seeking an abortion and in many such cases, the courts give negative judgement unfavourable to the woman and family. Cases involving child assault and underage rape are not rare and in fact are rampant throughout India. In such cases, the condition of pregnancy may be found late only when the child develops symptoms that may be close or well past the 20 week ceiling. It is insensible, insensitive and a denial of rights to a woman’s body specially when she is 20 weeks pregnant and she has to run around the court to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. Such conditions, where the earlier Act failed to take in to consideration certain factors, the MTP Act 2021 has come as relief.
Why the legal limit for abortion is only till 24 weeks ?
The primary objective of the Amendment to the MTP Act is not only to empower women but also to curtail the number of unsafe abortions happening in India. It was a shocking revelation when the Abortion Assessment Project in 2000 to 2004 reported that number of unsafe abortions were more than the legal abortions. To serve this purpose, valid changes such as extension of the legal abortion limit to 24 weeks, giving the right to legal abortion to all women despite marital status and excluding the need of a second doctor’s signature for abortions beyond 12 weeks of gestation have been incorporated.
Until the MTP Amendment Act 2021, an abortion to be carried out within 12 weeks of conception required the opinion of one doctor and two doctors for a gestational limit between twelve and twenty weeks. New rules have called for state-level medical boards to be set up to analyse and decide if a pregnancy of special case such as foetal malformation posing high risk of incompatibility with life or with high levels of physical/ mental challenges may be terminated after 24 weeks.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, is responsible for the legalisation of abortion. However, it can only be legally performed up to 24 weeks of conception. Under the Criminal Code, it is 24 weeks when the foetus is viable outside the mother’s body. Hence, an abortion may be legally performed up to this time. Doctors in practice, stick to a time limit of 22 weeks of gestation as they apply two-week margin of error.
It is important for a woman to be aware of the time limits on abortion. An abortion can be carried out as soon as the woman finds out that she is pregnant. It is advisable to take an appointment at the abortion hospital in Chennai if the woman may already know that she is pregnant. However, women may want to wait a little longer before taking a pregnancy test and then visiting the doctor. It is not suggestive to stay pregnant any longer than necessary and hence it is vital to be aware of the time limits for different types of abortion. A medical termination of late pregnancy may not be possible unless it is medically necessary. It is in hope that, with the given medical advancements, this MTP Amendment Act is a step further towards making safe abortion accessible to all women in future.