The archaic law on termination of pregnancy that doesn’t permit a woman to abort her foetus even if it is found struck with a terminal disease after 20 weeks has been challenged before the Supreme Court.
The obsolete provision in the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act of 1971 has caused much trauma to couples, forcing mothers to accept offers from even leading hospitals to terminate their pregnancy on the sly.
Even as well-known obstetricians and gynecologists have advised to increase the time-period from 20 weeks to 24-28 weeks, there has been no move to amend the outdated legislation.
The recent case-highlighting plight of a Mumbai couple that was disallowed by the High Court to abort a 26-week foetus with a heart defect has failed to evoke any response from the Government to update the law.
Challenging the Bombay HC verdict, a well-known gynecologist from the metropolis has now approached SC urging it to do away with the 20-week deadline for abortion. Acting on Nikhil D Datter’s petition, a bench headed by Chief Justice K G Balakrishnan on Friday issued notice to the Centre.
It also sought information from Datter regarding the law in other countries like the UK and the US.
Initially hesitant to hear the petition, the bench felt the issue could have been raised at the government level. However, it decided to entertain the case only after Datter’s counsel, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves pressed for court’s indulgence stating the law had become outdated.
Datter alongwith Nikita and Haresh Mehta had approached HC seeking permission to abort the couple’s first child as their doctor had found out in the 24th weeks that the foetus had a heart block.
The High Court had on August 4 dismissed the plea observing that termination of pregnancy was equivalent to “mercy killin.” Later, Nikita suffered a miscarriage.
The doctor has called for a fresh look at the law since the abnormalities in a foetus are detected only after the 20th week. The existing law allows abortions on various grounds including failure of contraception and when there is a substantial risk to the mother.
“During the last four decades, the technology has changed dramatically and it is now undisputed that abortions can be safely carried out even at the 40th week, as the procedure of abortion has become safer…In cases where the foetus is dead, the doctors are using these techniques to cause miscarriage even if they are above 20 weeks of pregnancy successfully and regularly,” Datter has claimed in his petition.