The Union Cabinet on Wednesday extended the upper limit for permitting abortions from 20 to 24 weeks. Union minister Prakash Javadekar said the move will ensure safe termination of pregnancies and give women reproductive rights over their bodies.

“In a progressive reform and giving reproductive rights to women the limit of 20 weeks of medical termination of pregnancy has been increased to 24 weeks,” Javadekar said at press conference in Delhi. “This is important because in first 5 months there are cases where the girl concerned doesn’t realise and has to go to court. This was discussed with various stakeholders.”

The minister added that this will also reduce maternal mortality.

“Enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women which will be defined in the amendments to the MTP Rules and would include ‘vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest and other vulnerable women [like differently-abled women, Minors] etc’,” a press release said.

The Cabinet approved the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. The bill will be introduced in the next Parliament session.

In September 2019, the Centre had told the Supreme Court that the right to reproductive autonomy did not outweigh the state’s interest in protecting the life of a foetus. The Centre argued that the 20-week limit cannot be extended in a blanket manner.

“It is a settled law that personal freedom of choice of an individual cannot curtail the freedom or choice of other individuals, specially the most vulnerable and persons who are defenseless,” the affidavit added. “Unborn child cannot protect itself from the harm designed by his/her very own mother.”

The petitioners sought to extend the ceiling to 26 weeks.

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