The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to examine a woman’s plea to terminate her 24-week pregnancy, which is prohibited by law, given the threat to her life.
A 26-year-old rape survivor had moved the top court seeking permission to terminate her pregnancy as her foetus suffered a birth defect that risked both their lives.
A bench headed by justice JS Khehar sought attorney general Mukul Rohatgi’s assistance and also called for Maharashtra state counsel’s presence in the matter. Noting that the woman’s life is in grave danger, the bench posted the matter for hearing on Friday.
The woman had challenged the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) that prevents abortion beyond 20 weeks, even in cases of fatal risk to the mother and foetus. The petitioner told the court that the foetus suffers from anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull. In the woman’s case, the foetus has not developed an abdominal wall, due to which, the baby’s intestines are growing outside.
Section 5 of the law allows a mother to abort only after medical opinion confirms “it is necessary to save the mother’s life”. However, the legislation does not provide for any remedy in case the foetal growth is abnormal.
According to medical opinion, the woman’s foetus has abnormalities and will cause mental distress to the mother.
The woman argued that the ceiling was unconstitutional and violated her right to live, calling it unreasonable, arbitrary, harsh and discriminatory.
Arguing for the petitioner, senior advocate Colin Gonsalves said the foetus had no life and would not survive once separated from the mother.
Pointing out that an amendment to the law was pending Parliament’s approval, which allowed termination of pregnancy at any point of time in case of severe foetal abnormality, he said, “If that is cleared, all the problems will be sorted.”
The woman became pregnant after her ex-fiancé raped her on the false promise of marriage. Gonsalves said she found out about the pregnancy only after the 20-week ceiling had elapsed.
Belonging to a poor background, the woman’s physical and mental health were at risk now.
To provide assistance to such victims, the petitioner suggested the court direct hospitals to set up an expert panel of doctors who can assess the pregnancy and then offer medical termination.
“The denial of her right to an abortion has caused Ms X extreme anguish and has forced her to continue her pregnancy, while being aware that the foetus would never survive,” said the petitioner.
Internationally, a woman can seek an abortion in case it is not healthy. However, each country has prescribed its own time-limit in the matter, which is more than 20 weeks, to abort. Switzerland, Great Britain and Netherlands are the only nations that do not have a ceiling.