The Madurai bench of the Madras High Court on Wednesday issued notices to the Centre and the state government seeking their response on extending the period for termination of pregnancy from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, The Hindu reported.

A division bench of Justices N Kirubakaran and SS Sundar said it was a matter of urgency for the central government to come out with a time frame by which the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, could be amended to extend the permissible termination period.

The court took suo motu cognisance of a report by the World Health Organisation and a non-profit organisation, March of Dimes, which showed that 2.7 crore children were born in India every year, of which 17 lakh were born with abnormalities found in the foetus itself.

The bench took serious note of the inordinate delay in framing amendments to existing statutes despite a proposal pending since 2014, The Times of India reported. The court gave the Centre two months to respond and adjourned the matter to June 24.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows women to abort foetuses up to 20-weeks-old. Permission of a High Court is required beyond 20 weeks and courts can make exceptions if abnormalities are detected and if there is substantial risk to the mother’s life and health. A pending bill in Parliament proposes to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act to extend the legally permissible period to end a pregnancy to 24 weeks.

The court took note of women or girls who conceive after being raped and said extending the period from 20 weeks to 24 weeks was necessary as it would avoid unwanted pregnancies. “In the interest of the children, women and future generation, the amendment is necessary,” the judges said.

The Madurai bench also said that doctors were finding it difficult to diagnose the abnormalities in the foetus within 20 weeks as the cases are reported late, especially in rural areas. The court said establishing neo-natal care and advanced scan centre are a necessity in all states.