Recent issues related to India’s law on abortion
(GS-II: Government policies and interventions)
A 25-year-old pregnant woman challenged Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, (in Supreme court) which allows only some categories of women to seek termination of pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks.
Background of the case:
An unmarried 25-year-old woman sought Delhi High Court’s permission for termination of a pregnancy of 23 weeks and 5 days, as her partner had refused to marry her. However, Delhi HC refused to grant her permission. So, she moved to SC.
What is India’s law on abortion?
Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, criminalises voluntarily “causing miscarriage”.
As per the amended law (2021), termination under the opinion of one doctor for pregnancies up to 20 weeks is allowed. For pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks, the amended law requires the opinion of two doctors.
Section 3B of Rules prescribed under the MTP Act: It allows seven categories of women who shall be considered eligible for termination of pregnancy up to twenty-four weeks, e.g. rape survivors, minors, change of marital status (from married to divorced), etc.
However, the law doesn’t recognize the situation of unmarried women.
Supreme court order:
Law covered ‘unmarried’ women: An amendment to the Act in 2021 had substituted the term ‘husband’ with ‘partner’, a clear signal that the law covered unmarried women within its ambit. Thus, SC allowed women to have an abortion.
The court ordered a medical board to be formed by the AIIMS to check whether it was safe to conduct an abortion on the woman and submit a report in a week.
Denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion violates her personal autonomy and freedom. A woman’s right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. She has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity.
Live-in relationships had already been recognised by the Supreme Court.
Progressive features of MTP Act 2021:
Abortions beyond 20 weeks allowed: It allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks.
Inclusive: Enhances the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women including survivors of rape- thus preventing the socio-economic and psychological impact of unwanted pregnancies.
Lowers burden on courts: Removes the limit of 24 weeks for termination of pregnancy in case of substantial foetal abnormalities, diagnosed by the newly established Medical Board– thus easing the burden on courts of writ petition for seeking abortion beyond the permitted period.
Maintains confidentiality: Names of the woman whose pregnancy has been terminated will be kept confidential– thus ensuring dignity and confidentiality of women.
De-stigmatizes relations outside marriage: Relaxes termination of pregnancy due to contraceptive-failure condition for ”any woman or her partner’‘ – thus de-stigmatizes pregnancies outside marriage
However, there are serious concerns with its provisions:
No right to abortion at will: It has various conditions for the termination of pregnancies.
No recourse for rape victims: For the termination of pregnancies beyond 24 weeks, rape victims cannot approach the Medical Board (can approach in case of ‘substantial foetal abnormalities’ only). so, the only recourse remains is through a Writ Petition.
No time frame for the medical board: Bill doesn’t provide the time frame within which the Medical board must make its decision – any delays may lead to further complications for women.
Transgender and unmarried, if they require abortion beyond 20 weeks, are not considered in the bill
Potential for executive overreach: Special categories of women whose gestation limit will be increased from 20 to 24 will be decided by the central government – and not by a sovereign body like parliament
Doesn’t considers institutional lacunae: According to the bill only Registered medical practitioners having experience or training in gynecology or obstetrics can perform the abortion, but according to NH&FS (2015-16) data only 53% of abortions are performed by a registered medical doctor, the rest are conducted by a nurse, midwives, family members, etc
Expecting the presence of two gynecologists in rural areas to ascertain the need for abortion is irrational.
India can follow the examples of the UK where pregnancy can be terminated anytime. Importantly, the WHO does not specify any maximum time limit after which pregnancy should not be terminated. Transgender and other vulnerable communities must also come under the ambit of the bill. Also, India needs to create a cadre of certified medical practitioners including ASHA, ANM workers in its health system.
Science of Genetics
(GS-III: Science and Technology)
200 years of the father of genetics, Gregor Mendel.
Genetics: Genetics is the study of genes, genetic variation, and heredity in organisms.
It was first experimentally established by Gregor Mendel (a monk) (1822 to 1884)
His contributions to Science:
Principles of Inheritance: By experimenting with pea plant breeding, Mendel developed three principles of inheritance that described the transmission of genetic traits, before anyone knew genes existed.
To this day, scientists use Mendel’s principles to explain the most basic phenomena of inheritance.
Foundation of biology: Mendel’s theory, together with the evolutionary theory propounded by Charles Darwin, laid the foundations of biology.
Cure for many human diseases: Assisted clinicians in human diseaseresearch
For example, within just a couple of years of the rediscovery of Mendel’s work, Archibald Garrod applied Mendel’s principles to his study of alkaptonuria (discolouration of the skin)
Science of genomics and gene editing has its root in the work of Mendel.
First to apply maths to biology: He may have been the first botanist who seriously applied mathematics to biology, unlike Charles Darwin, who was judged by observation rather than by calculation.
He was the one who coined the terms dominant and recessive to describe these traits, which are used even today.
Keshava temple at Somanathapur
The 13th-century Keshava temple also called “poetry in stone”, is getting a makeover ahead of the proposed visit of the UNESCO team to inspect the Hoysala monument nominated for inscription as a World Heritage Site.
The Chennakesava Temple, is a Vaishnava Hindu temple on the banks of River Kaveri at Somanathapura, Karnataka, India. The temple was consecrated in 1258 CE by Somanatha Dandanayaka, a general of the Hoysala King Narasimha III. It is located 38 kilometres (24 mi) east of Mysuru city.
Hoysala Art and Architecture: Hoysalas combined Vesara and Dravida styles and developed a new Hoysala style.
Important features of this style are:
The jagati around the temple is the open pradakshinapatha.
Polished pillar with a variety of designs.
Elaborate carvings and beautifully carved madanika figures.
Vimana(shikara) in pyramidical shape.
Most of their temples are in Bhumija style. In this style, miniature shikhara is carved on the outer wall of the temple.
Opium opened for private players
For 1st time, the central government has allowed a private company, Bajaj Healthcare to produce concentrated poppy straw that is used to derive alkaloids that are the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in pain medication (morphine) and cough syrups.
The move is also aimed at offsetting the declining area under cultivation of poppy in India.
Last year, the government allowed the production of – Opium gum and Concentrate of Poppy Straw (CPS) (previously only opium gum was allowed).
India has been growing poppy at least since the 15th century. The British East India Company assumed a monopoly on the cultivation of poppy, and the entire trade was brought under government control by 1873.
At present, the cultivation and processing of poppy and opium are controlled by the provisions of The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and Rules.
Due to fear of illegal cropping, Opium is allowed to be sown only in tracts of land notified by the central government in 22 districts in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan.
The government announces the licensing policy for opium cultivation every year
This entire quantity is bought by the government and processed in its own factories (in Uttar Pradesh’s Ghazipur and Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch. )
Only 12 countries including India allow its cultivation legally for medicinal use.