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Bill to make marital rape a crime introduced in Lok Sabha

A private bill titled the Women's Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill 2018 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha by Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor. The bill makes marital rape a crime and gives more decisional autonomy to women in termination of pregnancy

Jan 3, 2019 17:36 IST
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Bill to make marital rape a crime introduced in Lok Sabha

A private bill titled the Women's Sexual, Reproductive and Menstrual Rights Bill 2018 has been introduced in the Lok Sabha by Congress MP Dr Shashi Tharoor. The bill proposes to make marital rape a crime and gives more decisional autonomy to women in termination of pregnancy.

While introducing the bill, Tharoor explained that the bill's central idea was the "agency of women". The Minister stated that the existing laws fail to recognise 'woman' as an individual capable of making her own choices, specifically her sexual choices as a wife and her reproductive choices when pregnant.

The Bill: Key Provisions

The bill proposes the deletion of exception 2 to Section 375 of Indian Penal Code, which states that sexual intercourse by a man with his own wife is not rape.

The bill also adds a provision to explanation 2 that "the women's ethnicity, religion, caste, education, profession, clothing preference, entertainment preference, social circle, personal opinion, past sexual conduct or any other related grounds shall not be a reason to presume her consent to the sexual activity."

Abortion rights

The bill proposes amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971. The bill proposes renaming of the act to 'Legal Termination of Pregnancy Act'.

-  The change of name of the act has been proposed on the ground that the usage of the word 'medical' in the title of the Bill created ambiguity, which mainly impacted rural areas as the doctors there feared to interpret the law in case of an arrest under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code.

-  Section 312 punishes anyone who causes a voluntary miscarriage including the woman herself.

The bill grants women an absolute right to termination of pregnancy where they may terminate pregnancy merely by request until the 12th week of pregnancy.

The bill also grants women the conditional right to terminate their pregnancy until the 20th week.

- This right is conditional on risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health, or if there is a substantial risk of physical, mental or genetic abnormality of the foetus after being certified by at least one Registered Medical Practitioner.

- The pregnancies caused by rape or by the failure of birth control methods are deemed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of a woman.

The bill also grants a limited right of abortion until the 24th week of pregnancy.

- The Act limited termination of pregnancy to the 20th week of pregnancy unless the survival of the woman was at risk.

- However, this led to vulnerable women like victims of rape and disabled women who had no risk of injury, a threat to their life or foetus with an abnormality be embroiled in a legal dispute for their right to abort.

- Hence, in order to avoid an added trauma for these vulnerable women, the bill proposes an extension of the limit to the 24th week.

- It is not indefinite, as around 22-24th week a foetus becomes viable and it has the ability to live outside the womb of the mother, upholding the foetus’s right to life over the choice of the mother.

Free distribution of sanitary napkins

The bill further proposes an amendment to Right to Education Act to make provision for free distribution of sanitary napkins by schools.

It also mandates that all public authorities should ensure the availability of sanitary napkins, free of cost, at offices.

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