Cabinet clears abortion, surrogacy, assisted reproductive tech Bills; Champions women’s rights

New Delhi: The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020, a historic Bill for the welfare of women in the country. This follows the introduction in Parliament of the Surrogacy Regulation Bill, 2020, and the approval of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020.  These legislative measures are steps to protect women’s reproductive rights.

Once the Bill is enacted by the Parliament, the Central Government shall notify the date of the commencement of the Act. Consequently, the National Board will be constituted.

The National Board shall lay down a code of conduct to be observed by persons working at clinics, to set the minimum standards of physical infrastructure, laboratory and diagnostic equipment, and expert manpower to be employed by clinics and banks.

States and Union Territories will constitute State Boards and State Authorities within three months of the notification by the Central Government. The State Board shall have the responsibility to follow the policies and plans laid by the National Board for clinics and Banks in the State.

The Bill provides for the National Registry and Registration Authority to maintain a central database and assist the National Board in its functioning, and proposes for a stringent punishment for those practising sex selection, sale of human embryos or gametes, and running agencies, rackets, or organisations for such unlawful practices.    

The major expected benefit of the Act will be that it will regulate the assisted reproductive technology (ART) services in the country. Consequently, infertile couples will be more ensured and confident of the ethical practices in ARTs.

Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020

The Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, 2020, is the most recent in a series of legislations approved by the Union Cabinet to protect and safeguard the reproductive rights of women. The bill makes provisions for safe and ethical practice of assisted reproductive technology services in the country. Through the bill, the National Board, the State Boards, the National Registry and the State Registration Authorities respectively will regulate and supervise assisted reproductive technology clinics and assisted reproductive technology banks.

Assisted reproductive technology (ART) has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. India has one of the highest growths in the ART centres and the number of ART cycles performed every year. Assisted reproductive technology (ART), including in-vitro fertilization (IVF), has given hope to a multitude of persons suffering from infertility, but also introduced a plethora of legal, ethical, and social issues. India has become one of the major centres of this global fertility industry, with reproductive medical tourism becoming a significant activity. Clinics in India offer nearly all the ART services – gamete donation, intrauterine insemination (IUI), IVF, ICSI, PGD, and gestational surrogacy. However, in spite of so much activity in India, there is no standardisation of protocols yet, and reporting is still very inadequate.

The need to regulate assisted reproductive technology services is mainly to protect the affected women and children from exploitation. The oocyte donor needs to be supported by an insurance cover, protected from multiple embryo implantation, and children born through ART should be provided all rights equivalent to a biological children. The cryopreservation of sperm, oocytes, and embryo by ART banks needs to be regulated and the bill intends to make pre-genetic implantation testing mandatory for the benefit of the child born through assisted reproductive technology.

Surrogacy Regulation Bill, 2020

The Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill, 2020, proposes to regulate surrogacy in India by establishing a National Board at the central level, and State Boards and appropriate authorities in the states and Union Territories. The Bill has been examined by the Select Committee and the report has been tabled in the Rajya Sabha on 5 February.

The major benefit of the Act is that it will regulate the surrogacy services in the country. While commercial surrogacy will be prohibited – including sale and purchase of human embryos and gametes – ethical surrogacy to Indian married couples, Indian-origin married couples, and Indian single women (only widows or divorcees) will be allowed on fulfillment of certain conditions. As such, it is expected to control unethical practices in surrogacy, prevent commercialization of surrogacy, and prohibit potential exploitation of surrogate mothers and children born through surrogacy.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (34 of 1971), was enacted to provide for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners and for connected or incidental matteres. The Act recognised the importance of safe, affordable, and accessible abortion services to women who need to terminate pregnancy under certain specified conditions. Besides this, several writ petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court and various High Courts seeking permission for aborting pregnancies at gestational age beyond the present permissible limit on the grounds of foetal abnormalities or pregnancies due to sexual violence faced by women.

Taken together, the Govt says the three proposed legislations create an environment of safeguards for women’s reproductive rights, addressing changing social contexts and technological advances.

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The ID Staff

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