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The Medical Termination Amendment Bill, 2020: Still A Long Way To Go

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Legalising Abortion: An Overview

Women’s right to abortion is a stepping stone to gender equality. India’s advancement occurred when the Medical Termination Act of 1971 was brought to the forefront. Yet, abortion had been equated with criminality in Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code. As this section entailed, the woman would be deemed guilty if she wanted a voluntary abortion. The punishment, therefore, would extend up to 7 years. 

On the other hand, the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act introduced in 1971, or Act No. 34, clearly highlights a registered medical practitioner could terminate that pregnancy under two conditions: the gestation period does not exceed twelve weeks and the gestation should not extend beyond 20 weeks, even if the pregnancy has crossed beyond 12 weeks.

The Shah Committee recommended in 1966 that abortion must be legalised and introduced the terminology of Medical Termination of Pregnancy. However, this Act did not bring under its purview Jammu and Kashmir. By this Act, two medical practitioners had the responsibility for terminating an unwanted pregnancy to cease if the gestation crossed 20 weeks. Of course, the opinion of a second medical practitioner is not deemed necessary when pregnancy has not exceeded beyond 12 weeks. Of course, under the terms of the Act, abortion could only be carried out under these circumstances: 

Firstly, if the pregnancy has emerged as a threat to the mental well-being of the woman as a cause of rape, and secondly if methods of birth control have failed which could lead to severe mental injury. And it argues that if rape has occurred with a woman who is mentally challenged, it can lead to the child being born with abnormalities. However, it states that if a woman is above 18 years of age, consent was necessary to carry out the abortion. It was in 1997 that the Government of India assessed the usefulness of the Medical Termination Amendment Act, 2002, legalising the usage of mifepristone and misoprostol if the pregnancy is on seven weeks.

The Medical Termination (Amendment) Bill, 2020: Analysis

Dr Harsh Vardhan moves the Medical Termination of Pregnancy
Dr. Harsh Vardhan moves the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 in LS.
Credit: BJP/YouTube

On 17 February, 2020, Dr Harsh Vardhan introduced the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, which aimed at the amendment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, namely alterations in Sections 2, 3 and lastly 5. The new Bill clearly states that the opinion of the medical practitioner will be deemed the most significant in abortion. The medical practitioner will terminate the pregnancy if his/her opinion is that the pregnancy may be a risk to the life of the woman. 

On the other hand, the approvals of two registered medical practitioners are necessary if the gestation period is 20 to 24 weeks. In the new the clause, termination of pregnancy is only applicable to special categories of women as specified by the New Amendment Bill which includes rape victims and differently-abled women. By this discourse, the notion of victimhood is espoused on the women.

However, the mental trauma that a rape survivor may undergo must be administered by justice and empathy. In 2017, a 16-year rape survivor’s plea was rejected by the Madhya Pradesh High Court for abortion who had a 33-week foetus. The upper-gestation period must be expanded, which the Bill does not take into account. The gestation period, therefore, limits the ability of the rape victim. The provision of “married woman or her husband” has been replaced by “woman with her partner” by the new Amendment Bill which is inclusive and broad. 

Of course, the Bill allows the failure of contraceptives as a ground for abortion. However, the woman must establish her relationship with her partner by this above provision when she seeks to terminate her pregnancy. On the other hand, the gestation period can only be extended beyond 24 weeks if the woman has been diagnosed with foetus abnormalities. “The provisions of sub-section (2) relating to the length of the pregnancy by the medical practitioner where such termination is necessitated by the diagnosis of any of the substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by a medical board” [1].

The MTP Bill 2020 has brought under its purview the terminology of ‘registered health care providers’ which would permit practitioners of Ayurveda, Homeopathy as well as nurses to conduct abortions. Nevertheless, the clause of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill propounds the constitution of Medical Boards which must include a Gynaecologist, a Pediatrician and Sonologist or a Radiologist by clause 2(C). However, women from marginalised sections of society would not have access to safe abortions as most medical practitioners are based in urban cities. The delays might continue in rural areas as the Medical Board decides whether the pregnancy can be terminated. 

Indeed, a woman must justify why she seeks an abortion in the first place. However, the Bill highlights in Section 5(A) that “No registered medical practitioner shall reveal the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated under this Act except to a person authorised by law for the time being in force” [3]. This provision states that the woman’s privacy must be preserved. But the truth is that the autonomy of a woman to terminate a pregnancy is still determined by the Registered Medical Practitioner and the opinion of the woman is disregarded. 


  1. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, further to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy, 1971. Bill No. 55 Of 2020, as Introduced in the Lok Sabha,
  2.  The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, further to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy, 1971. Bill No. 55 Of 2020, as Introduced in the Lok Sabha, p.2.
  3. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, further to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy, 1971. Bill No. 55 Of 2020, as Introduced in the Lok Sabha, p.3.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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