The Delhi High Court on Tuesday asked the Centre to respond to a public interest litigation for extending the time period to terminate pregnancy to 24 to 26 weeks in case of health risks to the mother or foetus, PTI reported. The current legally permissible duration under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, is 20 weeks.

The bench, comprising Chief Justice Rajendra Mohan and Justice Brijesh Sethi, sent notices to the health and law ministries and the National Commission for Women. It sought their response on the plea which argues that unmarried women and widows should also be allowed to undergo abortion legally.

“MTP Act, 1971 is totally silent about termination of pregnancy of unmarried females and widows but it makes termination of pregnancy as an offence punishable under Indian Penal Code if the same is not done in accordance with the Act,” the plea said.

The bench said the matter would be heard on August 6.

The petition, filed by social activist and advocate Amit Sahni, sought instructions for the ministries as to when the Act would be amended. The PIL asked for the 20-week restriction to be extended with a proper amendment to the law, according to PTI.

The plea added that the current provisions only consider cases where pregnancy is caused by rape or due to failure of contraceptives used by a married couple.

The MTP Act allows women to go through abortions up to 20 weeks. For cases beyond the current time period, permission of a High Court is required. However, courts can make exceptions if abnormalities are detected and if there is a substantial risk to the mother’s life and health. A pending bill in Parliament proposes to amend the MTP Act to extend it to 24 weeks.