Parliament Must Join the Courts in Ensuring Women’s Right to Safe Abortions

In July 2016, the media in India was flooded with news about a subject most people shy away from – everyone in the country was suddenly talking about women’s right to safe abortion services. This year, once again we are having detailed discussions and seeing public analysis on women’s bodily autonomy and their access to comprehensive abortion care. In the intervening period, the Supreme Court and high courts have dealt with a series of appeals from young women seeking relief for termination of pregnancies beyond 20 weeks of gestation, both on grounds of rape as well as in cases of diagnosed foetal abnormalities incompatible with life. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has proposed amendments to the MTP Act after extensive consultations initiated way back in 2006, grounded on the principles of women’s rights. Eleven years later, we have seen a draft Bill that was reviewed and revised in light of public opinion, which reached a significant milestone when it was submitted to the cabinet for permission to admit it for consideration and passing by the parliament.

A report broke news that the amendments had been sent back to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare for better implementation of the MTP and the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Acts. With the amendments on hold, women are compelled to go to the Supreme Court and more shall continue to do so, seeking justice not just for cases of diagnosed foetal abnormalities incompatible with life or rape but also non-availability of safe abortion services in the absence of a law that adequately covers the provisions under which women can have access to safe abortion services. The Supreme Court has directed the government to make the law more meaningful and amend the MTP Act.