The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971

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The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (hereinafter referred to as “the Act”) came into effect on 1st April, 1972. The objective of the Act is to terminate certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners. This Act liberalizes the law related to abortion. Before this Act, Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code prevailed which was in accordance with the British Law. The provision provides induced abortion as illegal unless the abortion was done to save the women in good faith. Although the British law had changed the law in 1967 in Great Britain, India was still carrying it due to which the toll of women’s death increased.  The Government of India called a meeting in 1964 with Central Family Planning Board whereby The Abortion Study Committee was formed to survey the then penal provisions. The committee was led by Health Minister of State of Maharashtra Mr. Shantilal Shah. It took two years to submit the report and finally in December 1964, the report was submitted. The report suggested changing the law of Abortion which at that time was too restrictive and therefore the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 came into force. The Act was amended twice, i.e., 1975 and 2002. It consists of eight sections. It is applicable to all parts of India except the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Registered medical practitioner, as per the act, has to fulfill certain criteria. First, the medical practitioners must have a medical qualification recognized under Section 2(h) of Indian Medical Council Act, 1956. Secondly, his name has been enrolled in the State Medical Rights. Thirdly, he must have experience of gynecology or obstetrics. Therefore, the registered medical practitioner must fulfill the above conditions.

The pregnancy is terminated within twelve weeks on the opinion of one registered medical practitioner. However, if the pregnancy crossed twelve weeks and not twenty weeks, in that case, the opinion of two medical practitioners is important.  The reasons behind the termination are that if there is a possibility that the woman carrying the child is under risk of her life or she may suffer from a serious physical or mental injury or a substantial risk that the child born out of it will be physically or mentally handicapped. An explanation is also attached with Section 3 which provides that if the rape victim is conceiving a child, in that case, the registered medical practitioner can terminate the child to reduce the anguish of that rape victim with which she must be suffering from. Secondly, in cases of unwanted pregnancy where the women may suffer from the anguish of unplanned pregnancy. Therefore, in these cases the registered medical practitioner either with his own opinion or where there is requirement for two practitioners to give their opinion will terminate the pregnancy. In cases where a minor is pregnant, the pregnancy can be terminated only with the approval of their legal guardians, however, her opinion will be asked. Also in case of lunatics, the approval will be given by their legal guardians only.

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Section 4 deals with the place of termination. It provides that the place of termination will be in a hospital maintained by the Government or at any other place sanctioned by the Government. If the registered medical practitioner is of the view that an immediate action is needed to save the life of women, in that case, the place will become irrelevant and he will terminate immediately. The termination of pregnancy can be done only and only by the registered medical practitioner. If any practitioner who is not registered terminated the child, it will be an offence punishable under Indian Penal Code as per Section 5 of the Act.

Immunity has been provided to the registered medical practitioners that if any action taken in good faith and for the purpose of fulfilling the objective mentioned in this Act, in that case, he will be immune from the consequence of any harm caused during the process.  Therefore, the law of abortion got liberalized after the enactment of this act which also helped to spread the awareness of reducing the population which is increasing at a rapid speed.

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by Neha Dayal.