21 October 2011
By Sanjeev Shivadekar
Maharashtra Govt Under Fire For Proposing That All Doctors Be Made To Take Photographs Of Foetuses After Abortion
The suggestion came from a high-powered nine-member committee appointed to recommend changes in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.
“We need to take deterrent steps to curb the declining child sex ratio. A digital photo of the foetus is one of the measures suggested by the committee in its report to save the girl child,” said Dr Sanjay Oak, the panel’s head and the dean of KEM Hospital. Among the committee’s other recommendations is to allow over-the-counter sale of abortion drugs.
The idea behind the digital image proposal, government officials said, is that a database of these pictures would allow the authorities, every few months, to identify the doctors aborting more female foetuses. But for many medical experts, it is an infringement of a woman’s privacy.
A committee member who opposed the proposal, A L Sharda, told TOI: “Six of the nine panel members are against having digital pictures of foetuses. The move will not address the issue of falling child sex ratio. Quite the opposite, it would create more problems for women and push them towards illegal abortion centres.”
The committee was formed following a sharp decline in the state’s child sex ratio. According to the 2011 census, child sex ratio in Maharashtra is 833 girls (under the age of 6) to 1,000 boys. A decade ago, the figure was 913 per 1,000 boys. The national average today stands at 914.
Besides Oak, the panel had doctors, government officials and NGO workers as members. Early this week, its report—compiled by Oak—was submitted to public health minister Suresh Shetty.
“The suggestions will be forwarded to the government of India, which is in the process of making changes to the existing Pre-Natal Diagnostics Test (Prevention) Act and MTP rules,” Shetty said. “It is the Union government that has to take the call on the issue.”
Sana Contractor, research officer, Cehat, said it was unclear if more documentation on abortions would check sex-selective abortion. “Finding that a female foetus was aborted does not mean the abortion was sex-selective. Secondly, all second trimester abortions are not sex selective.”
Contractor added that the existing MTP rule, which demands two doctors’ signatures before an abortion is carried out in the second trimester, is a good law, if implemented effectively. “Instead of new recommendations, it will help in controlling abortion after second trimester if existing rules are followed.”
Oak said the digital image suggestion could be implemented by “conducting an audit of abortion centres’ records every three months”. “We may come across some flaw while implementing the new rules. But that can be rectified.”
Maharashtra’s missing girls are a matter of grave concern. Over the last few decades, fewer girls were born here than boys, thanks mainly to the male child preference predominant in the society. Against this backdrop, the government seems to be doing the right thing by discussing and working out ways to check the skewed child sex ratio. But the suggestions cannot be blind to other realities. Care has to be taken to ensure that the woman’s right to abortion as well as privacy are intact at every stage.
Moreover, instead of piecemeal measures, there is a need for a comprehensive plan that includes economic and social incentives to save the girl child.
Out of Focus
If accepted, this is how the digital image proposal will work
- Immediately after carrying out an abortion, doctors have to click digital pictures of the foetus and file them in their records
- Every three months, the government would audit these abortion records
- After studying the records on district level, the authorities will prepare a report and forward it to the health department
- On the basis of the reports, the government will identify areas where sex-selective abortions are rampant. Accordingly, an action plan will be devised and implemented