Last week, three pregnant women carrying foetuses with severe birth defects approached a city-based doctor for help, as they had crossed the legal 20-week abortion deadline.
With doctors refusing to perform an abortion for these women, the only option they are left with is to seek permission from the Supreme Court, the doctor said. “The women are carrying unborn babies who may either not survive or could have an extremely substandard quality of life if they make it,” said Dr Nikhil Datar, a gynecologist and medical director with Cloudnine Hospital, Malad, who these women consulted with.
In one of the cases, the foetus has been diagnosed with a condition called hydrocephaly, which results in abnormal fluid collection in the brain. In the other two cases, the unborn babies have severe cardiac abnormalities, said Dr Datar.
“Most cardiac abnormalities are diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy. With the present laws, which allow abortion only up to 20 weeks, what choice do these women have?” he said.
Although Dr Datar has helped four women in the past seek permission from the Supreme Court to abort their unborn babies with severe birth defects, health experts said filing a petition for every case is not feasible. “Not every pregnant woman who has crossed the deadline of 20 weeks has access to filing a petition in the apex court,” said a medico-legal expert.
“The Supreme Court must lay specific guidelines for such cases, till the revised Medical Termination of Pregnancy ( MTP) bill is passed in the parliament,” he added.
The draft Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill, 2014 says that the decision to allow abortion between 20 and 24 weeks can be taken in good faith by the competent person. Most western countries such as Singapore, United Kingdom and United states allow abortion up to 24 weeks.
International statistics suggest that 1 in 100 pregnancies result in birth defects. “Many women, who get sonography done in time, but cross the 20-week cut off till the time they get the confirmatory results. What is the solution for these cases?” asked Datar.