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SC allows rape victim to end pregnancy after docs say her life is in danger

india Updated: Jul 25, 2016 21:24 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Supreme Court

Supreme Court grants liberty to woman to terminate her 24-week-old abnormal foetus.

: The Supreme Court allowed on Monday an alleged rape victim to terminate her 24-week pregnancy after doctors said the malformed foetus posed a danger to her life, an order that relaxes a 20-week legal restriction on abortions.

A bench headed by Justice JS Khehar permitted the abortion as a board of seven doctors declared that the foetus was a danger to the 26-year-old woman’s physical and mental health.

The decision could have a bearing on an identical case, in which the Delhi high court on Monday directed the AIIMS in the Capital to constitute a board of doctors to examine a juvenile rape victim, who has sought permission to abort her 24-week pregnancy. The girl has been asked to appear before the medical board on Wednesday.

The top court had on July 22 directed Mumbai’s KEM hospital to set up a panel of experts to examine the petitioner, a Maharashtra resident.

Attorney general Mukul Rohatgi, while submitting the report on Monday, said the medical termination of pregnancy act didn’t prohibit abortion if the foetus posed a grave risk to the mother’s life.

The woman had told the court that the foetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, but doctors refused her abortion as the pregnancy has gone beyond the 20-week legal ceiling.

The court will continue to hear the woman’s challenge to the ceiling.

The pregnancy termination law allows a woman to abort but only after doctors confirm “it is necessary to save the mother’s life”. It, however, is silent on a remedy in case of an abnormal foetus.

The woman told the court that she was raped by her former fiancé who went back on his promise of marriage. She found out about the pregnancy after 20 weeks had elapsed.

The petitioner requested the court to ask the government to direct hospitals to assign doctors for assessing and offering medical termination of pregnancy to survivors of sexual violence even beyond 20 weeks.

Internationally, a woman can seek an abortion of abnormal foetus. However, each country has its own limit, which in most cases is more than 20 weeks. Switzerland, Great Britain and the Netherlands are the only countries to not have such a ceiling.