Right to Abortion in France

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in the News?
  • Background
  • About the Amendment
  • What About Other European Countries?
  • Abortion Laws in India
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021
  • Major Provisions of the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021

Why in the News?

  • In a global first, France inscribed the guaranteed right to abortion in its constitution on March 8, on International Women’s Day.

Background

  • In January 2024, France’s Parliament had passed an amendment to provide constitutional validity to right to abortion.
  • Abortion, although legal in France since 1975, has now been a “guaranteed freedom” for women.
  • Although rare, amending the constitution is not without precedent in France.
  • The French constitution has been modified nearly 25 times since it was adopted in 1958.
  • The last instance was in 2008 when Parliament was awarded more powers and presidential tenure was limited to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms in office.

About the Amendment

  • The Bill, introduced last year, stipulates that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy, which is guaranteed.”
  • This means that future governments will not be able to drastically modify existing laws which permit termination up to 14 weeks.
  • France is the only country to currently have such a specification about abortion.

What About Other European Countries?

  • Abortion is currently accessible in more than 40 European nations, but some countries are seeing increased efforts to limit access to the procedure.
  • In September 2022, Hungary’s far-right government made it obligatory for women to listen to the pulse of the foetus, sometimes called the “foetal heartbeat,” before they can access a safe abortion.
  • Poland, which has some of the most stringent abortion laws in Europe, allows termination only in the event of rape, incest or a threat to the mother’s health or life.
  • The U.K. permits abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy if it is approved by two doctors.

Abortion Laws in India

  • The law on abortion in India is primarily governed by Sections 312-316 of the Indian Penal Code and the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
  • The MTP Act 1971, by laying down certain permissible grounds under which a woman can undertake medical termination of pregnancy, creates an exception to the general law against abortion.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • In March 2021, the Parliament passed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 to amend the MTP Act, 1971.
  • The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 has expanded the access to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian and social grounds to ensure universal access to comprehensive care.
  • The MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 came into force in September, 2021.

Major Provisions of the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021

  • Increase in Gestation Periods:
    • The Amendment Act increases the maximum gestational limit for pregnancies that may be aborted on the advice of one 'registered medical practitioner' from 12 weeks to 20 weeks.
    • For pregnancies that may be aborted on the advice of two medical practitioners, the limit has been raised to 24 weeks.
    • Earlier, if the length of the pregnancy was over 20 weeks and a woman wished to undergo a termination, she would have to file a writ petition before the High Court concerned or the Supreme Court.
  • Recognition of Pregnancies outside of Traditional Marriages:
    • The Amendment reflects the change in definition from "pregnant married woman" to "pregnant woman" and from "her husband" to "her partner".
  • Termination due to Failure of Contraceptive Method/Device:
    • Another laudable amendment is the inclusion of unwanted pregnancies due to the failure of contraceptives as a ground for abortion.
    • Under the original MTP Act, abortions could take place only by proving that there was grave risk to the pregnant woman or grave risk of serious physical or mental abnormality.
  • Setting up of Medical Boards:
    • All state and union territory governments will constitute a Medical Board.
    • The Board will decide if a pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks due to substantial foetal abnormalities.
    • Earlier, medical boards are created by various High Courts and Supreme Court after entertaining writs filed by women and were not in any way statutorily mandated.
  • Privacy:
    • A registered medical practitioner may only reveal the details of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated to a person authorised by law.