Do we need a national debate on our abortion law?
I think this whole issue of the Mehtas wanting to abort their 25 week fetus (because it could possibly be born with a heart defect) has been blown out of proportion. But people say this case is very important as it has put the spotlight on India’s antiquated liberal abortion law – the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971. This Act says that it is legal to abort as long as:
1) The fetus is 12 weeks old or less
2) But abortion is allowed up to 20 weeks for the following reasons:
- If the mother’s life is at risk
- If the baby is conceived because of rape
- If there is a fear that that the baby would suffer mental or physical abnormalities
- If the pregnant couple can prove that the child is a result of a failure of a family planning device
3) After 20 weeks – no abortion. That is indeed a lacunae in the Act, but let’s see this from a global point of view. Here is a map that gives you as to how liberal or antiquated we are as compared to the rest of the world – click on the map for a bigger picture:
- Most liberal – Blue area (eg. U.S, Canada) – abortion is legal.
- Second most liberal – Light Green (eg. India, United Kingdom) legal upto a certain number of weeks, and after that depending on special circumstances as laid out by the law, eg. bad health, rape.
- Brown and Orange (parts of Africa and South America) – legal under special circumstances like health of the mother, rape. You can read more
- The navy blue areas prohibit abortion
As you can see India doesn’t score badly at all where this law is concerned. And considering that we are way behind the rest of the developed world with regard to other laws, whether it is cyber laws or child abuse laws, why so much fuss about an abortion law? Our abortion law is a decent one. Sure, the law can and should improve, everything can be improved. I just wonder whether this subject is worthy of a “national debate.”
The second thing confusing me is the actual case. I like to solve mysteries and I would like to know why a doctor said (in court) that the Mehtas’ baby is likely to be fine after all! But the Mehtas went to court because they were told that their baby would most likely be born with a heart defect. According to the law, they cannot approach the court unless they have taken at least two opinions, that is what the MTP Act says. So was this some third doctor who said there are few chances of the baby being born with a defect? It’s strange, but he actually said it was a “typo” and that instead of “few” chances of being born with a disability, the stenographer wrote “fair” chances. But what about the other doctor/doctors? Did those doctors also make some sort of typo? It’s a mystery to me but no one seems to be talking about this…instead there is a “national debate” about our fairly reasonable abortion laws.
A thought did cross my mind…did the parents know that their baby had “few” chances of being born disabled from the start and they went to court anyway, because they didn’t want to take any chances at all? No, it can’t be, that seems too horrific an idea.
I wasn’t going to write about this whole issue, but a reader sent in a request. And that is why Mad Momma wrote about it too, because someone asked her too. I liked her take on it and am quoting her here:
It breaks my heart to think of a 26 week old foetus being aborted because in my head its already a baby by now. By this time I was feeling both my babies kick and each movement made me smile…But I understand if the Mehtas don’t want to take the risk of a child who might need a pacemaker. Perhaps they don’t have the space in their lives and don’t have either the time or the money to do it. And who are we to question or judge that?
Related Reading: Two new laws concerning women in India
Prominent doctor trapped in a sex determination racket by the BBC
Profile of Renuka Chowdhury, India’s Minister for Child Welfare and Women’s Development