An amendment that was required
By Vijaya Pushkarna
Remember the heart wrenching story of the 10-year old in Chandigarh? She complained of tummy ache, and the doctors told her mother that the child was 30-weeks pregnant. Her two uncles had raped her for months without let up.
Let us call her Nikki –in Punabi it means little girl, and is a common pet name for girls. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,1971 (MTP) did not allow her an abortion on many grounds–she was underaged, not married, and above all, she was more than 20 weeks pregnant.
The story of the 12-year old who does not know that she is the mother of a two and a half year old baby given away in adoption, is not rare, said the Supreme Court of India.
Since Nikki’s is not a one off story, the Union Cabinet’s approval on Wednesday, of an amendment to the 50-year old abortion law, will address a human issue as much as gender issue. The amendment will also place the law in the context of real and contemporary India, where women seeking safe and legitimate abortions in safe hospital environments, may be of any age and in any relationship—married or living with a partner.
The amendment proposes to raise the upper limit of gestation for purposes of MTP, to 24 weeks from the present 20. This will be for “special categories” of women and would include 'vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women (like differently-abled women, Minors) etc.”
“The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate pregnancy”, said the government note.
Nikki delivered a baby in August 2017, after undergoing a cesarean section, which happened after a long chain of events: the PGI set up a committee of doctors to take care of her, the Chandigarh District courts rejected the plea for terminating her pregnancy.
The Supreme Court had also dismissed the plea –by then the 32-week foetus inside her was almost a baby. But the apex court bench had a suggestion—that every state set up a permanent medical board to take prompt decisions on prospects of early abortion. For such cases were reaching the apex court in a big way!
The amendment has addressed the fact Nikki’s was not a unique story.
It is also the logical follow up to many verdicts of the Supreme Court that have long recognized living in relationships, and given rights to children born of such a reality.
Now, this is an amendment that was required.