The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, received presidential assent on August 10, 1971. It contains eight sections which provide for the termination of pregnancies by registered medical practitioners and lay out provisions on related matters.
The Act extends to the whole of India except the (then) state of Jammu and Kashmir. This 1971 Act has since been amended twice – in 2002 and 2021.
How does the Act define registered medical practitioners?
The Act solely authorises “registered medical practitioners” to carry out termination of pregnancies. A medical practitioner who has medical qualifications recognised under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, with their name included in a State Medical Register qualifies as a “registered medical practitioner”. They also need to have “experience or training in gynaecology and obstetrics.”
Under what conditions does this Act allow for medical termination of pregnancy?
The Act states that if the period of the pregnancy does not exceed 12 weeks, the pregnancy may be terminated with the opinion of one registered medical practitioner. In cases where the length of the pregnancy exceeds 12 weeks but does not exceed 20 weeks, opinions of at least two registered medical practitioners are required.
A pregnancy may be terminated if the medical practitioners believe that it could pose a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or would gravely injure her physical or mental health. Termination of a pregnancy is also allowed if there are substantial chances of the child being born with severe physical or mental abnormalities.
The gestational limit of 20 weeks and the requirement for the opinion of two registered medical practitioners shall not apply in cases where a medical practitioner deems immediate termination necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, the Act states.
What does the Act consider “grave injury” to the mental health of a pregnant woman?
A pregnancy caused by rape would also be considered as causing grave injury to the woman’s mental health. Distress caused by the failure of any contraceptive measure may also be considered as a “grave injury” but it is only applicable if the contraceptive failure was experienced by a “married woman or her husband”.
Where can a pregnancy be terminated?
As per Section 4 of the Act, the termination of a pregnancy shall only happen either at a hospital established or maintained by the government, or at a place approved by the government for the purposes of this Act.
What powers does the Act confer on the central government?
Under Section 6 of the Act, the central government is empowered to make rules to carry out the provisions under this Act. These rules may include the provisions outlining the experience or training, or both, required of a registered medical practitioner to carry out termination of pregnancies.
What powers does the Act confer on the state governments?
State governments have the power to issue regulations requiring the registered medical practitioner who terminates a pregnancy to give related information the Chief Medical Officer of the state. Failure to comply with this will be punishable with a fine extending upto Rs. 1,000.
What other things does the Act stipulate?
The Act, under Section 3, additionally states that no pregnancy terminations shall be carried out without the consent of the pregnant woman. If the pregnant woman is below the age of 18 years or is “lunatic”, the termination will only be allowed with the written consent of her guardian. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2002, substituted the term “lunatic” with “mentally ill person”.
Section 8 of the Act also protects registered medical practitioners against legal proceedings against them for damage caused or likely to be caused by their actions done or intended to be done “in good faith”.
Focus and Factoids by Siddhita Sonavane.
PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.
Ministry of Law and Justice
Government of India, New Delhi
10 Aug, 1971