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Motherhood is for all? Debate rages in SC

india Updated: Jul 21, 2009 00:14 IST
Satya Prakash
Satya Prakash
Hindustan Times
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A Can a mentally retarded woman be allowed to give birth to a baby conceived in rape?

Confronted with this rather tricky legal question, the Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Chandigarh administration on a petition challenging Punjab and Haryana High Court’s order to terminate the pregnancy of 19-year-old Sarita (name changed).

The woman is not just mentally retarded but also unwed and an orphan. She conceived after an employee of a nari niketan (shelter for destitute women), where she was staying, raped her.

The HC had on July 17 allowed the Chandigarh administration to get Sarita’s pregnancy medically terminated. She has already crossed 19th week of pregnancy and according to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, a foetus cannot be aborted once the pregnancy completes 20 weeks.

Keeping this in mind, the court will decide the case on Tuesday.

Interestingly, the case is being fought by pro-life/pro-choice activists on one side and pro-abortion activists on the other. Sarita is under constant medical care at Ashraya, where she was shifted from the nari niketan.

Earlier this year after the Chandigarh administration detected her pregnancy and got her physical and mental conditions examined. It concluded that termination of pregnancy was in Sarita’s best interest. It approached the HC, which on July 17 allowed termination of pregnancy.

A group of young Chandigarh lawyers, led by Tanu Bedi, challenged the HC verdict. Bedi said India had no law that stopped a woman from becoming a mother.

She might be unaware of the intense legal battle over her right to motherhood, but Bedi said she was sure that Sarita wanted to have a baby.

Bedi argued that the law allowed a mentally retarded woman’s right to have children and Sarita’s pregnancy could not be terminated against her will.

She sought to draw a distinction between mentally ill and mentally retarded and emphasised that the former were legally entitled to bear children.

Bedi said after examining Sarita, a medical board appointed by the HC had said she could become a mother with some support from society.

She said it was only because Sarita was an orphan that the Chandigarh administration decided to have her pregnancy aborted.

An orphan since childhood and not aware of meaning of a blood relation, Sarita has all the more reasons to give birth to her baby to know what a family means, Bedi said.

On behalf of a pro-abortion activist, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves defended the administration’s decision approved by the HC. He referred to the first medical board’s report that said the pregnancy would adversely affect the physical and mental health of both the mother and the child.

A mentally retarded woman was raped and she conceived. While one side is for terminating pregnancy, other is against it.