HC seeks Centre’s response on plea for raising abortion time period

‘Lack of legal approval, unhygienic conditions put many at risk’

The Delhi High Court on Tuesday issued notice to the Centre on a petition seeking to raise the time period for terminating pregnancy in case of health risk to the mother or the foetus from the current cap of 20 weeks to 24-26 weeks.

A Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Brijesh Sethi sought responses from the Health and Law Ministries, and the National Commission for Women on the plea.

Unmarried, widows

The petition filed by social activist and advocate Amit Sahni has contended that unmarried females and widows too should be allowed to undergo a legal abortion.

Mr. Sahni said the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 completely prohibits termination of pregnancy in case foetus is suffering from severe abnormality even after a period of 20 weeks. “The foetal abnormalities are detected appropriately between 18 to 20 weeks and the period of one-two weeks is too small for the would-be parents to take the difficult call on whether to keep their baby or to abort the same,” the plea argued.

Serious abnormalities

Even if the foetus is scanned and found positive with serious abnormalities, the woman is forced to carry pregnancy due to bar provided under MTP Act, he added.

“The lack of legal approval moves abortion to underground [illegal manner] and they are done in unhygienic conditions by untrained persons, thus putting thousands of women at risk,” the plea claimed. Seeking to amend the current law, Mr. Sahni said, “The abortion beyond a period of 20 weeks is permitted only if continuing the pregnancy poses a substantial risk to the woman’s life. But the law does not take care the factum of serious abnormalities suffered by the child in the womb and detected after 20th week”.

He added that many European countries, including France, U.K. and Italy and even neighbouring country Nepal allow abortion after 20 weeks if foetal abnormalities are discovered. “Twenty-three countries, including Canada, Germany and Vietnam, allow abortion at any time if the request is based on social or medical reasons,” the plea added.

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