The Supreme Court directed Mumbai’s KEM hospital on Friday to set up a medical board to examine an alleged rape victim who wants to terminate her 24-week pregnancy, which is prohibited by law.
The 26-year-old woman had petitioned the top court to allow her to abort the foetus, which is malformed, saying she became pregnant after her former fiancé raped her and went back on his promise of marriage.
Besides, she said the foetus suffers from anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, but doctors refused to abort it as her pregnancy has surpassed the 20-week legal ceiling.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, prohibits an abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
The law allows a woman to abort her pregnancy only after medical opinion confirms “it is necessary to save the mother’s life”. But it fails to provide any remedy in case of an abnormal foetus.
The singularity of her case prompted the court to ask the premier state-run hospital in Mumbai to constitute an expert panel of doctors by Saturday and submit a report during the next hearing on July 25.
The order from a bench headed by Justice JS Khehar came after solicitor general Ranjit Kumar said he will place the government’s view after the board gives its opinion on the petitioner’s health.
The court reminded the law officer that his arguments should bear in mind a bill awaiting parliamentary approval, which allows a woman to abort her foetus at any time of her pregnancy if it poses a risk to the baby’s life. The amended law will also do away with the cutoff time for abortions.
The petitioner had voiced similar concern about the baby in her womb posing a threat to her life, saying the foetus has no life and won’t survive once separated from the mother. Also, the foetus has not developed an abdominal wall, due to which, its intestines are growing outside.
She had claimed to have found out the pregnancy after the 20-week legal ceiling had elapsed.
Unable to find help and suffering from anxiety, she moved the top court seeking permission to terminate her pregnancy.
She has challenged the time-limit for abortion, calling it unconstitutional because it violated a woman’s right to live. It’s unreasonable, arbitrary, harsh and discriminatory, she said.
The petitioner appealed to the Centre to direct hospitals to assign doctors for assessing and offering medical termination of pregnancy to survivors of sexual violence who have surpassed the 20-week ceiling.
Internationally, a woman can seek an abortion in case of an abnormal foetus. However, each country has prescribed its own time-limit, which is more than 20 weeks. Switzerland, Great Britain and the Netherlands are the only nations that do not have a ceiling.