An Indian activist holds a model of a fetus during a protest against abortion in New Delhi. (Photo: AFP)
The Catholic Church has strongly opposed an Indian federal government move to allow medical termination of a pregnancy up to 24 weeks, arguing that “it is an infringement upon the right to life” of a baby in the womb.
The synod of the Eastern-rite Syro-Malabar Church in an official statement on Feb. 1 urged the government to withdraw the proposed law, which would extend the present termination period by four weeks.
The cabinet has cleared a proposal to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (1971) in the parliament’s current budget session.
However, Catholic leaders are opposed to allowing termination just three months before a baby’s delivery date.
“It is nothing but a direct infringement upon the right to life of a baby in the womb,” said Father Antony Thalachelloor, spokesman for the Syro-Malabar synod.
The bishops, he told UCA News, “want the government to drop the amendment as it is against life.”
The bishops in their statement asserted that “the government move is against the tenet of non-violence” the country has been following. “Laws in a country are meant for human welfare.”
The 1971 law itself, the bishops noted, paved the way for the brutal killing of numerable children in the womb and the new one will scale up it further.
The bishops also questioned the government’s argument that it is a welfare-oriented law. “What welfare is there in killing hapless children in the womb of their mothers?” they asked.
Meanwhile, a pro-life group in the southern Indian state of Kerala has also urged the federal government to withdraw its abortion move.
“The government order prepares a conducive atmosphere for unbridled abortion,” read a statement by the pro-life committee of Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council. “There is no difference between a child in pregnancy and a newborn.”
The statement followed an emergency meeting in Kochi on the issue chaired by Bishop Paul Mullasserry of Quilon.
The pro-life group said it will organize statewide protest programs in Kerala to oppose the extension.
It said the 1971 law allowed abortion only up to 12 weeks under strict restrictions. “Later it was extended to 20 weeks and now to 24 weeks, which will lead to female feticide and manslaughter,” the group warned.
After a Jan. 29 cabinet meeting, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said the change would ensure the safe termination of pregnancies and give women reproductive rights over their bodies.
“The extension will help victims of rape, girls with disabilities and minors who may not realize they are pregnant until later,” he added.
“If the pregnancy has to be terminated in 20 weeks, the opinion of one doctor is required. But beyond that, the opinion of two doctors would be needed and one must be a government physician.
“The name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy is terminated shall not be revealed except to a person authorized in any law which is in force. It is a progressive reform. This will reduce maternal mortality."
An official statement said that one of the salient features of the proposed amendment is enhancing the upper gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for special categories of women that would include vulnerable women including survivors of rape, victims of incest, disabled women and minors.
The statement said the upper gestation limit will not apply in cases of "substantial fetal abnormalities" diagnosed by the Medical Board.
The amendments are aimed at expanding access of women to safe and legal abortion services on therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian or social grounds, the statement said.
"It is a step towards the safety and well-being of the women and many women will benefit from this,” it added.
Several recent petitions have been received by courts seeking permission beyond the current abortion time limit on grounds of fetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence.
"The proposed increase in gestational age will ensure dignity, autonomy, confidentiality and justice for women who need to terminate pregnancy," the statement said.