Three people, including one doctor, from Mumbai have approached the Supreme Court, seeking an extension of the limit on abortion from 20 to 28 weeks.
Dr Nikhil Datar, who had supported his patient Niketa Mehta to move court in 2008 for abortion after a cardiac defect was detected in the foetus in the 24th week of gestation, is the doctor.
They filed the petition through the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN), an NGO. Their argument is that the Act violates women's rights to physical integrity and the 20-week limit can lead to severe foetal abnormalities.
Their counsel, senior advocate Colin Gonzalvis, told the bench headed by Justice Ranjan Gogoi that the legislation was made on the basis of a study carried out in 1971. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act also came into force in 1971.
Now, with advanced technology, there is no harm in women going for abortion at any stage. Even a committee of experts have suggested that extension will cause no mental or physical harm, the petition argued.
The National Commission for Women, the Federation of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of India (FOGSI), the international community and women's groups agree that the 20-week limit imposed by the MTP Act is irrational, outdated and unconstitutional.
Out of the 26 million births that occur in India every year, approximately 2-3 per cent foetuses have a severe congenital or chromosomal abnormality, the petition said.
Most countries, which have legalised abortion, allow termination after 20 weeks in case of severe foetal abnormalities or to protect the mental or physical health of a pregnant woman.
Doctors seem to be divided on the issue.
Dr Rishma Dhillon-Pai, consultant gynaecologist at Jaslok Hospital, says the period between 20 and 22 weeks is the ideal time to check for anomalies in foetuses through sonography. "We generally ask a patient to undergo tests around the 18th week to find abnormalities. Some reports take three weeks and we lose on the MTP cut-off time. A little extension will come as a boon to a lot of women," said Dr Pai.
Dr Ashwini Bhalerao, gynaecologist at PD Hinduja hospital, said, "It is true that some anomalies are picked only at a later stage of pregnancy but don't know whether raising MTP to the 28th week will be a good decision. Given the female feticide issue, MTP should be allowed in certain conditions."
But Datar, who started the case has the parting logic. "If Indian law allows a doctor to terminate pregnancy if its continuation poses grave physical or mental injury or risk to life of a woman, why can't a pregnant woman with abnormal foetus be allowed to go for abortion after 20 weeks?