Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP Act 1971): A boon to Women
Author: Neha Gauthami Govindaraja
Designation: Law Student, Tamil Nadu National Law University
Email ID: Nehagovindaraja@gmail.com
“I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” These are the words of the prominent female activist, Malala Yousafzai. The latter part of her words implies the present conditions of women of the world, who aren’t accessible even to the basic rights. Focusing on India, the women are being hit both economically and socially, and their safety is still a huge question mark, despite the country having successfully achieved 73 years of independence. We can take pride in saying that our country has successfully come up with schemes and plans which concentrate on the empowerment of women. But the question which arises here is that, is this actually helping the women? The essence of the help provided, essentially lies in action, where we are able to visualise the positive changes. What a woman considers important prior to opportunities or better living conditions, is her privacy and bodily autonomy. As seen in the case of Kharak Singh v. State of UP, personal liberty meant more than “mere animal existence.”
From being criminalised in Sections 312-316 of the IPC, as recognition being given against violating the rights of women, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 furnished the right of a woman to voluntarily terminate her pregnancy with her consent.
Abortion is considered the “deliberate termination of a human pregnancy.” This statement can be said to imply that life of the foetus is being taken away intentionally, with consent, and hence termed illegal. The Constitution of India, in its Preamble, says that it secures to all its “citizens,” justice, liberty, equality, and fraternity. Can the unborn child actually be considered a citizen? Moreover, Article 21, which is prone to give birth to various judicial interpretations protecting life, states that “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.” Here, the word to brought under the light is “person.” Again, the uncertainty evolves as to whether the foetus can be provided with the privilege of being called a person. The unborn child hence, cannot be given the title of being called a person, taking away from it the protection offered by Article 21. To support this further, the Pre-conception and Pre-natal Diagnostic Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection)] Act, 1994, Section 2(bc), gives the definition of foetus stating that it is “a human organism during the period of its development beginning on the fifty-seventh day following fertilisation or creation (excluding any time in which its development has been suspended) and ending at the birth.” Nowhere here does the Act mention the foetus as a person. This automatically should be sufficient to strip the illegality off terminating a pregnancy. The Bill introduced in the year 2020 also focuses on increasing the time period during which a pregnancy may be terminated. The above-mentioned facts are strongly in favour of this amendment. Hence, there was a dire need of this Act, as it helps the women retain their physical and mental health, reducing maternal deaths out of unwanted pregnancies. This also provided the victims of rape to able to terminate their pregnancy legally, as in the case of Suchita Srivastava & Anr vs Chandigarh Administration.
According to Hillary Clinton, Former United States Secretary of State, "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all." But, more than half of the women population in this country, let alone being accessible, is not even aware of such scope for improvement, as they continue existing in patriarchal societies. As it is explicitly stated in the case of Justice K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, privacy is a fundamental right guaranteed to every citizen under the Constitution of India. Bodily integrity refers to women feeling that they are in possession of their body. The Preamble of the Constitution says that the people of the country are entitled to live a dignified life, fraternity being promoted amongst all. Contrarily, women’s bodies are still considered political bodies, giving the rights and powers to others to have control over their body. Men, the government, the society in general has had control over women’s body, sexuality and fertility for ages. Women’s abortion rights have been frowned upon the government and society in general. But this Act being introduced gave way to the women being able to legally terminate their abortion.
Earlier, the lawful reasons under which a pregnancy could be terminated under the Act, were applicable only for married women. Similar to the recommendations brought in by the Ministry of Health, new amendments are to be made so as to provide the same right to unmarried women as well. This would help fabricate a new level of personal liberty to women, entangling them from unwanted societal issues which are inflicted upon them. This provides women conceiving out of the “marital sanctity” the basic right to terminate their pregnancy upon their wish to do so. Marriage has its roots deeply imbibed in patriarchy. Socially constructed meanings do not justify for the lack of explanation in the law. True liberty lies in everyone tasting freedom, not just who the people deem to be “fit” to do so. The right of a woman over her body is the crux here, which is important irrespective of her marital status.
Concluding, it is important to view the world without judgemental opinions or any type of discrimination despite the social taboos that exist. They are bestowed with the right to make decisions, as long as no harm is inflicted on the next person. Therefore, for seeing the actual upliftment in the lives of the women, medical and surgical abortions are to be made available to all women. Only by providing the basic rights to women, we can witness a non-patriarchal, truly democratic society.
 AIR 1963 SC 129  Indian Penal Code, 1860  Statement of Objects and Reasons, Medication Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020  (2009) 9 SCC 1; 2009 (11) SCALE 813  (2017) 10 SCC 1  The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020