Opposition parties in RS demand Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill be sent to select committee

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New Delhi, Mar 16 (PTI) Various opposition parties like the Congress, CPI-M and the NCP demanded on Tuesday that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 be sent to a select committee of the Rajya Sabha.

The bill seeks to extend the upper limit for permitting abortions from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks for 'special categories of women' which include rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled and minors.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was passed by voice vote in the Upper House later in the day.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha about a year ago.

Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan told the House that extensive consultations were done before the bill was passed in the Lok Sabha last year and it was also approved by the Ethics Committee and a Group of Ministers headed by Nitin Gadkari.

He said the bill is a step towards safety and well-being of a woman and it will enlarge the ambit and access of women to safe and legal abortion without compromising on safety and quality of care.

Vardhan told the House that the proposal (bill) will also ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate pregnancy.

After the health minister moved the bill for consideration in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, Congress leader Pratap Singh Bajwa submitted a resolution to send it to a select committee.

Participating in the debate on the bill in the House, Congress member Amee Yajnik said, 'You (the minister) did not mention hearing (on the bill) from direct stakeholders. Therefore, at the end (of my speech) I would urge you to send the bill to the select committee.' Yajnik is of the view that the bill does not give a proper solution.

Talking about going to a medical board of specialists for getting permission to terminate pregnancy, she asked, 'Do we have a complete survey of how many medical practitioners are there in this country.' 'Why should a woman be relegated to a medical board which we don't know whether it would be manned by specialist doctors or whether they have that objectivity of taking a decision. No time frame to taking a decision by these boards is prescribed in the bill,' the Congress member said.

She pointed out that there is no mention of a councilor or social service provider in the bill.

Echoing a similar sentiment, Fauzia khan from the NCP said the bill should be sent to the select committee as it is incomplete.

'Since all the stakeholders have not been taken into confidence, I suggest it goes to the select committee,” she noted.

She noted that taking opinion of two specialist doctors, especially in rural areas, was an impractical expectation.

'Opinion of one specialist should suffice in the gestation period of 20-24 weeks,” Khan said.

Similarly, Binoy Viswam of the CPI said the right of making a decision to terminate the pregnancy should be with the women and not with the medical board.

Santanu Sen from the AITC noted that the bill does not say anything about the sex workers.

He said the government should make efforts to make the health infrastructure robust, especially in rural areas.

Sen said although the intent of the bill was right, but at the same time it needed improvements.

Samajwadi Party leader Chaudhary Sukhram Singh Yadav also asked the government to send the bill to a select committee to remove all deficiencies.

Jharna Das Baidya of the CPI-M said the MTP Act in the current form was against unmarried women.

She sought improvements in the bill by sending it to a select committee.

Shiv Sena's Priyanka Chaturvedi said the decision to terminate a pregnancy impacts a woman mentally, physically and emotionally.

'And for her who is in the advanced stage of pregnancy and a stage where she knows there is a life inside her womb, for her to take that decision is a difficult one indeed. For her across various medical boards with three doctors and some state representatives, I think is extremely demeaning to her, is invasion of her privacy, invasion of her choice and creating more bureaucratic hurdles needed at the time when she needs to take that decision,' she noted.

Chaturvedi said the bill should be amended in a way that it becomes a model for the entire world rather than push it in a hurry and regret it later. PTI MSS KKS SNE