The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld mentally retarded women’s right to motherhood, saying it was for the State and civil society to support them and their children.
A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan stayed a Punjab and Haryana High Court order of July 17 to terminate the pregnancy of a 19-year-old mentally challenged woman.
Sarita (name changed) had conceived after being raped by security guards at a nari niketan (shelter for destitute women) in Chandigarh in March. She is an orphan.
Sarita has crossed the 19th week of pregnancy. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, a foetus cannot be aborted once the pregnancy completes 20 weeks. This is why the court, fast-tracked the case.
“Nature has its own strength,” the chief justice said.
The court rejected doubts raised by Chandigarh administration counsel Anupam Gupta and senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, representing a pro-abortion activist, that Sarita might not survive the trauma and stress of childbirth.
Directing the Chandigarh administration to provide all possible medical and psychological support to Sarita, the bench, also comprising justices P. Sathasivan and B.S. Chauhan, said it would deliver a reasoned judgment later.
“She was raped in a naari niketan run by the Chandigarh administration. Is it not your responsibility to take care of the child?” the court asked Gupta.
On Monday, after a group of Chandigarh-based advocates led by Tanu Bedi challenged the high court order, the Supreme Court had issued a notice to the Chandigarh administration.
Gupta told the court that no NGO had come forward when the matter was heard by the high court. But Bedi said the National Trust for the Welfare of Persons with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Mental Retardation and Multiple Disabilities and the Delhi-based Disabled Rights Group were willing to support the Sarita and the expected child. The trust’s counsel, Gautam Banerjee, and DRG convener Javed Abidi told the court they were ready to take care of Sarita and her child.
The Supreme Court also examined two experts — psychiatrist Paramleen Kaur and gynaecologist Dr Poonam Goel — about Sarita’s physical and mental health.
The experts said Sarita was physically fit to give birth but since she had the mental capacity and understanding of a nine-year-old she might not understand what motherhood meant and would not be able to take care of the child.
Pointing out that Sarita wanted to have a child and was physically fit to give birth, the chief justice said: “If somebody is ready to take care of the child, should the court order the termination of her pregnancy even then?”