Conflicting laws making abortion difficult

Conflicting laws making abortion difficult

 As the Health Ministry plans to widen the abortion service net by changing the existing law, another piece of legislation to curb female foeticide may come in the way due to the inherent conflict between the two statutes that seem to work at cross purpose.

The government intends to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, to make the abortion criterion less stringent and expanding the period up to 24 weeks in special cases.

But the Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique (Prohibition of Sex Selection Act), 1994, has become an irritant as the anti sex selection law looks at every abortion in the second trimester with suspicion.

“The two (laws) need to speak to each other because both have different objectives. Not all abortions are sex-selective,” Rakesh Kumar, joint secretary in the Health Ministry told officials from 30 states who came to the capital for discussions on how to expand the medical methods of abortion up to the primary health centres. The meeting was organised by Ipas Development Foundation with support from the Health Ministry.

It is easier said than done at the grassroots level. “When pregnant women in second trimester approaches a PHC, doctor asks her to go to the district headquarters and get a written approval from the Chief Medical Officer of the district. This is impossible for rural women because of which they can not abort,” said a source, who attended the meeting earlier this week.

Also, there is lack of clarity on the role of ultrasound clinics, which are under government’s scanner because of their role in sex selection.

As the clinics are required to maintain elaborate documentation that are subject to government scrutiny, many ultrasonography clinics don’t entertain abortion cases.
“The legal and conceptual segregation would continue even with the proposed amendment to the abortion act,” said Vinoj Manning, executive director of the foundation.

“It’s a challenge to expand the medical means of abortion because of doctors’ and clinics’ lack of understanding about the provisions in these two laws and rural women are the worst sufferers,” says a member of a non-governmental organisation that works on safe abortion practices. Not all second trimester abortions were for sex selection but unfortunately this view was prevailing and there had been a decline in the second trimester abortions services between 2010 and 2012, said another official.

Though abortion is legal since 1971, unsafe abortions are the third major cause of maternal mortality in India accounting for eight per cent maternal deaths annually.

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