The Indian cabinet on Wednesday (Jan 29) has approved a bill giving women more time to seek abortion. With the aim of helping the young, disadvantaged and raped, the measure extends the deadline to 24 weeks from 20.
The bill is set to go for approval before a new session of parliament that opens on Friday, January 31.
“This will help particularly adolescent girls, disabled girls, rape victims and others who face these problems,” Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said in a news conference.
Abortions are allowed in India on certain conditions like rape, if there is serious danger to a mother, substantial risk of disability to a child or if contraceptive fails.
If the bill is passed, the change would replace a nearly 50-year-old law and would bring India closer into line with countries such as Greece, Finland and Taiwan, which set a conditional maximum limit of 24 weeks for abortions.
While many U.S. states are restricting abortion, there has been a trend of liberalisation globally, with almost every country permitting it under at least some circumstances, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.
Under current law, terminations after 20 weeks are not allowed in India unless a mother’s life is in danger.
But an increasing number of women and girls, including high-profile child rape victims, have sought court permission for later abortions. Usually the requests came when a pregnancy is discovered late or poses a risk to either mother or foetus.
According to the latest proposal, abortions can be sought even after 24 weeks if there are “substantial foetal abnormalities”, a government statement said.
The cabinet’s decision came after the federal government told the Supreme Court in September that the 20-week limit could not be changed, saying a foetus’s right to life transcended all other rights.
But campaigners have long demanded an extension, saying the 1971 law is archaic and ignores medical advances.
They say the 20-week limit forces some women and girls to seek out unsafe, illegal ways to end their pregnancies.
Sangeeta Rege of the Mumbai-based Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes, a medical charity that helps rape victims, urged the government to remove the abortion deadline completely for sex assault victims.
“When it is an outcome of rape, even if she comes at 32 weeks, she must be given abortion and not have to go to the court,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Everything should be done to ensure that access is provided.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)