Advocate and Activist Amit Sahni moved to Delhi High Court on Monday to put forth his plea that the way State forces women to bear children (through its laws), needs to be checked. The state also neglects major health issues in this process, which poses a threat to both the mother and the child’s life, hence abortion laws should be revised. This threat is not only for physical health but also for the emotional one. The activist also put in his plea that the maximum time for terminating the baby according to her wish should be extended to 24 or 26 weeks.

“How can State force a woman to deliver a child if she does not wish to? How can State force a child to also struggle all along,” Sahni questioned in his petition which was mentioned on Monday before a bench headed by Chief Justice Rajendra Menon.

There have been a number of cases where a woman’s life has been risked under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTC) Act. Not only this, but there have also been cases where the child’s condition is critical, or he/she is suffering from a critical disorder in the womb itself, but the pregnancy couldn’t be terminated because of the Act.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act needs to keep pace with technology

There have been a number of cases where a woman’s life has been risked under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTC) Act. Not only this, but there have also been cases where the child’s condition is critical, or he/she is suffering from a critical disorder in the womb itself, but the pregnancy couldn’t be terminated because of the rules mentioned in the MTC Act. In one such case, the Supreme Court of India denied terminating a 26-week old foetus, in April 2017. The foetus was detected with Down’s syndrome in the 22nd week of pregnancy.

The problem came to a family which already had a child with special needs. Since the Down’s syndrome in the foetus was detected in the 22nd week, it had already crossed the deadline of 20 weeks as in the rules of MTC. This and other cases like this made Sahni move the court, as it is clearly visible that the act needs to keep pace with the changing times and technology.

But that was just a possibility and came out to be visible from a test that is conducted during the 18th-20th week of pregnancy only. These antenatal screening tests are performed during this period and hence the deadline of 20 weeks mandated by the Supreme Court comes at fault.

What’s important to note is that the couple discovered the possibility of Down’s syndrome in the 18th week of pregnancy. But that was just a possibility and came out to be visible from a test that is conducted during the 18th-20th week of pregnancy only. These antenatal screening tests are performed during this period and hence the deadline of 20 weeks mandated by the Supreme Court comes at fault. Moreover, not only this but an anomaly scan can detect foetal abnormalities only after 18 weeks of gestation. The tests are expensive and also come with some risks. Considering this dimension of the pregnancy, they are performed only if the screening tests are indicative. So, there is a chance that after the deadline of 20 weeks is passed, the foetus might be diagnosed with an abnormality that can prove to be depressing for both- child and the family in the later phase of life.

Termination of pregnancy across the world

Across the world, around 60 countries have gestational limits over the termination of pregnancy. 52% including France, the UK, Austria, Ethiopia, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and even Nepal provide provision for termination of pregnancy even after 20 weeks of gestation on encountering foetal abnormalities. Hence it is time that India too brings in necessary reform in the law that was passed in 1971.

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