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Supreme Court to hear argument on extending the legal abortion age limit from 20 to 28 weeks
Giving hopes to the lakhs of women forced to give birth to abnormal or stillborn babies every year, the Supreme Court has now decided to hear a plea seeking extension of the legal limit for abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971) from the present 20 weeks to 28 weeks. A Supreme Court bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi has posted the case for December.

Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves argued in the court that the current absolute 20 week limit in the Act violates women's rights to bodily integrity. The National Commission for Women, the Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of India (FOGSI), the international community, and several other women's groups are also backing it.

The present abortion law states that abortions are allowed only till the 20th week of pregnancy. This 20 weeks cap to the abortion law violates the women's fundamental rights to life, health, dignity and equality.

Whereas doctors argue that, with the advanced technologies, abnormalities in vital organs like heart, brain or kidney in the foetus will be known only between 22 and 24 weeks. And there are ways to conduct a safe abortion at any stage without any harm to the health of the mother. But according to the present abortion laws, abortion is banned after 20 weeks and because of this approximately 2-3 per cent fetuses have a severe congenital or chromosomal abnormalities.

Dr. Sujata Dutta, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Fortis says, "Yes, its definitely a need to increase the legal limit of the abortion, because quite often fetal abnormalities, which are not necessarily compatible with health, and which can cause sever disability actually picks up at the 'Anomaly scan'. Now the best time to do the Anomaly scan is 22-23 weeks."

She added, "In India if you pick up some cardiac abnormality that may lead to a fetal death, then you can't legally terminate the pregnancy, which causes a lot of problems for both the parents, as they are the once who are having to go through the emotional, financial trauma and also coping with a sick baby."

Dr. Dutta while saying that the law should be well documented and executed so that it is not misused, added, "But you should make sure why the abortion is taking place, either to save the mother or if there is a serious fetal abnormality. In the absence of those two documented problems, termination of pregnancy should not be allowed."

Echoing the same, Dr. Shakti Bhan, a Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Appolo Hospital says, "If there is an abnormality in the pregnancy, it should be terminated, as it is a stress for the mother as well as the family. It is much better if there is a legal way to abort the baby of more than 20 weeks. For example if the foetus is more than 20 weeks old and is abnormal, and can't have a normal life then it is much better to abort such kind of pregnancy."

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