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OVER-REGULATION IMPEDING ACCESS TO SAFE ABORTION

Focus: GS-II Social Justice

Why in news?

Over-regulation of drugs to curb gender-biased sex selection such as through government programmes like ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ has hindered access to safe, legal and cost-effective abortion, according to a survey.

Details

  • The Survey found an “overwhelming shortage” of abortion pills or medical abortion drugs.
  • The findings show that State-wise regulatory and legal barriers are the key reasons why almost 80% of chemists surveyed refrained from stocking these drugs.
  • More than 50 % of chemists also reported that medical abortion drugs were over-regulated as compared to other prescription drugs.

Misunderstood

  • The regulatory hurdles are due to a misunderstanding that easy availability of medical abortion drugs will be misused for sex selection.
  • There is a lack of knowledge that these drugs are approved for use only up to nine weeks – whereas, an ultrasound can detect a foetus only at around 13-14 weeks.
  • The fact that these abortions are allowed under the Medical Termination Act is also neglected.

The law on abortions allows termination of pregnancy in the first nine weeks and in some cases even in the second trimester, such as in sexual assault cases as well as due to foetal anomalies.

  • A study on the incidence of abortion and pregnancy in 2015 estimated that more than 80% of abortions annually are medical abortions and nearly 90% of abortions are sought in the first trimester.

The Difference

Abortion pills are different from emergency contraceptive pills. The latter are taken 72 hours after unprotected sex to prevent an unintended pregnancy. Whereas abortion pills or MA drugs are abortafacients which terminate a pregnancy by expelling an embryo or foetus.

Choice reduced

  • The lack of availability of MA drugs forces many women to seek a surgical abortion from a facility, reducing her choice.
  • It will also reduce access to safe abortion and force them to seek services from unsafe providers as there are only a little over 16 thousand approved abortion facilities in the private sector in the country, whereas, MA drugs can be provided by an obstetrician or a gynaecologist.
  • MA drugs are also cost-effective, whereas, the surgical method would set them back by Rs. 2,000-5,000 in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns and smaller nursing homes or clinics.

Recently in news: Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

  • The Lok Sabha passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to amend the MTP Act, 1971, to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from 20 weeks to 24 under “special circumstances.”
  • The “special categories of women” include rape survivors, victims of incest, the differently abled and minors, Health Minister said moving the Bill.

Proposals of the Bill:

  1. The requirement of the opinion of one registered medical practitioner (instead of two or more) for termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks of gestation (foetal development period from the time of conception until birth).
  2. Introduce the requirement of the opinion of two registered medical practitioners for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
  3. Increase the gestation limit for ‘special categories’ of women which includes survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women like differently-abled women and minors.
  4. The “name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be revealed”, except to a person authorised in any law that is currently in force.

Background on Abortion in India

  • Abortion in India is legal in certain circumstances. It can be performed on various grounds until 20 weeks of pregnancy. In exceptional cases, a court may allow a termination after 24 weeks.
  • When a woman gets a pregnancy terminated voluntarily from a service provider, it is called induced abortion. Spontaneous abortion is when the process of abortion starts on its own without any intervention. In common language, this is also known as miscarriage.
  • Before 1971, abortion was criminalized under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, describing it as intentionally ‘causing miscarriage’.
  • It was in the 1960s, when abortion was legal in 15 countries, that deliberations on a legal framework for induced abortion in India was initiated.
  • The alarmingly increased number of abortions taking place put the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) on alert.
  • To address this, the Government of India instated a Committee in 1964 led by Shantilal Shah to come up with suggestions to draft the abortion law for India.
  • The recommendations of this Committee were accepted in 1970 and introduced in the Parliament as the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill.

-Source: The Hindu

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September 2022
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