Overview: The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

By Anubha Chaturvedi 7 Minutes Read

Introduction

Abortion Laws in India witnessed a phenomenal change with The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 receiving the assent of the President on 25th March 2021. The Amendment Bill, 2021 was approved in Rajya Sabha on 16th March 2021 to amend The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. It was earlier passed from Lok Sabha on 17th March 2020. The law has come in force on 24th September 2021.

The latest Amendment Act makes Indian abortion law quite progressive reflecting a positive attitude towards reproductive rights of women and gender justice. This makes reproductive health services for Indian women easily accessible thus preventing abortion practices that turn out to be fatal to women. Now India is in the league of countries having most liberal approach regarding abortion law.  “While laws are not in competition between countries, they are indicators of where rights, especially women’s rights stand. Currently, 26 countries in the world do not permit abortions and 39 allow it only when the mother’s life is at risk.”[1]   

“Coming 50 years after the passage of the historic MTP Act of 1971, the MTP Amendment Bill 2020 is an evolutionary landmark addressing some of the challenges posed by the 15.6 million abortions we manage each year in India. As the next step, we need to work towards advocating a more rights based approach by giving women greater autonomy and choice and to operationalize grassroots access with an expansion of provider base,” said Dr Nozer Sheriar, Member, Technical Advisory Group, WHO-South East Asia Region, and Past Secretary-General and MTP Chair, Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India.

Amendments introduced to the Principal Act

The Act has total 5 sections that amend Section 2, Section 3 and Section 6 of The Principal Act and a new section (Section 5A) has been introduced into the Principal Act.

Section 2, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Section 2(i) of The Act has amended Section 2 of The Principal Act. Next to Section 2(a) of the Principal Act ‘clause (aa)’ has been added which describes “Medical Board”.
  • ‘Clause(e)’ has been introduced to section 2 of the Principal Act that defines the term “termination of pregnancy” as a procedure used to terminate a pregnancy by using “medical” or “surgical” methods.  

Section 3, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Section 3 of The Principal Act  has been amended increasing the upper gestational limit from 12 to 20 weeks requiring opinion of one registered medical practitioner and from 20 to 24 weeks requiring opinion of two registered medical practitioners to terminate the pregnancy on the grounds that the continuation of such pregnancy would involve risk to the life of the pregnant woman, risk of grave injury to her physical or mental health or that there is a substantial risk of a severe physical or mental abnormality in the child to be born.
  • Explanation 1 and 2 have also been amended as to unmarried women seeking abortion in the case of failure of contraceptive method used by them and their partners.
  • Moreover, sub-sections 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D have been introduced mentioning –
  1. in case of substantial fetal abnormalities diagnosed by a Medical Board, the above-mentioned gestation length does not apply
  2.  the constitution of Medical Board and its members

Section 4, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Section 4 inserts new ‘Section 5A’ into the Principal Act that protects the privacy of a woman. The Medical practitioner is not to reveal the identity of a woman getting an abortion. The punishment in such case has also been mentioned in the newly introduced section.

Section 5, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Section 5 amends ‘Section 6’ of The Principal Act which talks about central Government’s power to make rules regarding the provisions of The Principal Act. New Clauses “aa, ab and ac” have been inserted. Now the Central Government can make rules regarding women under Section 3(2)(b) of the Principal Act, norms for registered medical practitioners under Section 3 (2A) and powers and functions of the Medical Board under Section 3(2C) of the Principal Act.

Thus, we see that the amendment has increased the upper limit of gestation from 20 to 24 weeks for women including rape survivors, victims of incest, differently abled women and minors under Explanation 1 to Section 3(2) as the words “only married woman or her husband” has been replaced by “any woman or her partner”. The liberties of getting an abortion done legally and safely has been extended to unmarried women. This also covers the cases where the pregnancy is the result of failure of contraceptive methods used by a woman and her partner. To top it all the amendment has removed gestational limit in case of fetal abnormalities making abortion laws in India more progressive and inclined towards preserving the reproductive health of women in India. This has been a commendable attempt in order to strike a balance between social and cultural ethics of our society and personal liberty and freedom of women to choose for themselves.   


[1] Chitra Subramaniam, India’s new abortion law is progressive and has a human face, OBSERVER RESEARCH FOUNDATION (March 7, 2020), https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/india-new-abortion-law-progressive-human-face-62023/

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