High Courts across the country are witnessing a substantial increase in abortion cases, a new report released on Tuesday said. 'Assessing the Judiciary's Role in Access to Safe Abortion- II' report analysed cases seeking permission of termination of pregnancy from the High Courts between May 2019 and August 2020. The report was released by Pratigya, a network of over 100 individuals and organisations working towards protecting and advancing women's rights and their access to safe abortion care in India.
"There were a total 243 cases filed across 14 high courts and one appeal before the Supreme Court. In 84 per cent of the cases, permissions were given to terminate the pregnancy," the report said. It said, 74 per cent of the total cases were filed post the 20-week gestation period, 23 per cent of them were filed within the 20-week gestation period and should not have gone to the courts at all.
"Out of 74 per cent cases (filed after 20 weeks cut off) 29 per cent cases were related to rape/sexual abuse, 42 per cent related to foetal anomalies; and out of 23 per cent cases (filed even before 20 weeks) 18 per cent cases were related to sexual abuse/rape and 6 per cent of foetal anomaly," the report said. Commenting on the legal aspect in India and the study findings, Anubha Rastogi, Pratigya Campaign Advisory Group Member and author of the report said the increasing number of cases only indicate to the fact that access to safe and legal abortion services in this country still leaves a lot to be desired.
"It is imperative that any change in law takes note of these increasing trends and moves towards a rights based, inclusive and accessible legislation on abortion. Any new law/amendment cannot be based on third party authorisation like the medical boards and has to be respectful of a decision that involves the registered service provider and the pregnant person, he said.
Speaking at the launch of the report, VS Chandrashekar, Campaign Advisory Group member, Pratigya Campaign said the fact that even women/girls with gestation below 20 weeks have had to go to courts is distressing. "The MTP Act allows termination of a pregnancy upto 20 weeks. A large number of the below 20 weeks cases are of survivors of sexual abuse and this only increases their trauma," he said.
The report emphasises on how crucial it is for the law to adapt in accordance to the changing times. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, is awaiting a nod from the Rajya Sabha and a few changes have been recommended by civil society organisations, which if accepted would make the Act progressive and rights based, the report said. Even if the MTP Amendment Bill 2020 is passed in the current form, the number of cases approaching the courts is not likely to reduce," Chandrashekar said.
"Therefore, to avoid this, the proposed amendment to 'increase the gestation limit from 20-24 weeks' should be extended to all pregnant persons who need to terminate a pregnancy, instead of being restricted to only to certain categories of women as defined in the MTP Rules," Chandrashekar added. "Similarly, the 'no upper gestational limit proposed for fetal anomalies' should be extended to survivors of sexual abuse/rape. Forcing a person to carry a pregnancy out of rape to term is a violation of her right to life and dignity, he said.