Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) in India: An Overview

Shivendra Pratap Singh

Advocate

High Court Lucknow

Article

Reading Time:

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 is a significant piece of legislation in India that legalizes abortion under certain conditions. Over the years, the act has been pivotal in safeguarding women’s reproductive rights while also ensuring medical safety and ethics.

Historical Background:

Before 1971, abortion was criminalized in India under the Indian Penal Code, 1860. The only exceptions were if the procedure was carried out to save the life of the pregnant woman. The need for reform was recognized, leading to the MTP Act.

Provisions of the MTP Act:

  1. Conditions for Termination:
    • Pregnancy may be terminated if it poses a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or her physical or mental health.
    • If there’s a substantial risk that the child, if born, would suffer from physical or mental abnormalities leading to severe handicap.
    • Pregnancy resulting from rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman).
    • Pregnancy resulting from contraceptive failure in married women (also considered a reason concerning the mental health of the woman).
  2. Who Can Terminate:
    • The pregnancy must be terminated by a registered medical practitioner.
    • For pregnancies up to 12 weeks, the opinion of one doctor is required. For pregnancies between 12 to 20 weeks, the opinions of two doctors are essential.
  3. Where it can be Done: Abortions can only be carried out in a hospital established or maintained by the government or a facility recognized by the government.
  4. Consent:
    • For a married woman, the husband’s consent isn’t needed. For a minor or a mentally ill person, the guardian’s consent is required.

Amendments and Evolution:

MTP Amendment Act 2021:

Recognizing the evolving needs and challenges, the government amended the MTP Act in 2021 with several crucial changes:

  1. Upper Limit Extension: The amendment increased the permissible gestation age for abortions from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for specific categories of women.
  2. Opinion of Medical Practitioners: For pregnancies up to 20 weeks, only one medical practitioner’s opinion is needed. For those between 20-24 weeks, the opinions of two are required.
  3. Privacy: The identity of the woman seeking an abortion is now protected, ensuring her right to privacy.
  4. Definition of ‘Woman’: The act changed the term from ‘married woman’ to ‘woman,’ recognizing the need to safeguard unmarried women’s reproductive rights too.

Importance of the MTP Act:

  1. Reproductive Rights: The act places the reproductive rights of women at the forefront, ensuring that they have autonomy over their bodies.
  2. Medical Safety: By stipulating who can perform abortions and where, the act ensures the procedure’s medical safety.
  3. Ethical Balance: The act strikes a balance by allowing abortions in circumstances where there’s potential harm while also setting limits to protect unborn life.

Conclusion:

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act is a crucial aspect of women’s healthcare legislation in India. It balances the complex intersections of ethics, medical safety, and women’s rights. As societal understanding evolves, it’s essential to review and amend such laws, as demonstrated by the 2021 amendment. The act serves as a testament to the evolving nature of reproductive rights in India and underlines the importance of adapting to the changing needs of society.