Doctors at KEM Hospital will evaluate the case of a 23-year-old Mumbai resident, who went to the Supreme Court to seek permission to abort her 24-week-old foetus that has a severe birth defect.
The woman had approached the Supreme Court to terminate her pregnancy because the malformed foetus posed a threat to her life. A bench of justice SA Bobde and justice LN Rao agreed to consider the woman’s prayer and ordered the hospital to constitute a board to examine her on Thursday. A report shall be submitted to the court, which will now hear the case on Friday.
The panel will comprise the same experts who had in July checked a rape survivor who had moved the top court with a similar plea because the law doesn’t permit abortion beyond 20 weeks.
Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the petitioner, said the woman was severely malnourished. The foetus has been diagnosed with anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull, he said.
In the case of rape victim, the SC had relaxed the 20-week ceiling to allow the woman end to her pregnancy. It did so after taking a medical board’s opinion that said continuance of pregnancy would gravely endanger the mother’s physical and mental health. The top court is already seized of petitions challenging the law that fixes a ceiling in cases of abortion.
The woman, who lives in the western suburbs, during a sonography test last month, had discovered that her unborn child has anencephaly, which can be detected at 16 weeks of pregnancy through an ultrasound, doctors said.
“This is the woman’s first child. She went for a check-up a little over 20 weeks of pregnancy. She is not highly educated and she did not know the importance of early screening,” said Dr Sangeeta Pikale, a gynaecologist, who had evaluated her case. “She went to many gynaecologists asking them to abort her baby, but all of them refused as she was more than 20 weeks pregnant,” she said.
According to Dr Nikhil Datar, medical director, Cloud Nine Hospital, Malad, who has filed the petition in the apex court, the foetus has no chances of survival. “There is not a single case in which an unborn baby with anencephaly has survived. It is very traumatic for a mother carrying the child,” he said.
Even earlier, doctors from the city have approached the apex court with similar cases. In 2008, Dr Datar had moved SC, seeking permission for his patient Nikita Mehta who was over 20 weeks pregnant, to abort her unborn baby with a cardiac anomaly. Last year, he had helped a rape survivor file a similar petition.
According to medical experts, this case has reiterated the need for altering the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act to allow abortion in special cases for foetuses that are more than 20 weeks old.
“Many severe anomalies are being diagnosed after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These deserve termination especially when the baby is going to die or suffer irreparable limitations to basic quality of life,” said Dr Pikale.
Doctors added the modified draft of Medical Termination of Pregnancy bill, which allows abortion up to 26 weeks, should be introduced in the parliament soon. “Certain cardiac anomalies can be defected only after a period of 20 to 24 weeks. What do these patients do then?” said Dr Bipin Pandit, a medico-legal expert from the city.
“The law needs to change and must allow termination for up 24 weeks, which is in par with the laws in other developed countries,” he added.