Length of pregnancy immaterial, if foetal abnormalities severe: HC

Published on Jan 24, 2023 01:07 AM IST

Strap: Court allows married woman get her 33-week pregnancy medically terminated Mumbai: The length of the pregnancy does not matter in cases of severe foetal abnormalities, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday and allowed a married woman to get her 33-week long pregnancy medically terminated

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HT Image

Strap: Court allows married woman get her 33-week pregnancy medically terminated

Mumbai: The length of the pregnancy does not matter in cases of severe foetal abnormalities, the Bombay High Court said on Thursday and allowed a married woman to get her 33-week long pregnancy medically terminated.

The court went against the recommendation of the medical board of Sassoon General Hospital, Pune. The board had opined against medical termination of the pregnancy claiming the abnormalities — microcephaly and lissencephaly— were treatable and that the gestational stage, at 33 weeks, was advanced.

The woman’s counsel had argued that the law allows medical termination of pregnancies irrespective of the gestational stage, if there are serious foetal abnormalities.

In the judgement made available on Monday, the division bench of justice GS Patel and justice SG Dige said the medical board did not take into account the social and economic position of the petitioner and her husband. It also “ignored their milieu entirely” and did not even attempt to envision the kind of life — one with no quality at all to speak of — that the petitioner must endure for an indefinite future if the board’s recommendation is to be followed.

In 2021, the maximum gestational age at which a woman may obtain a medical abortion in the country was raised form 20 weeks to 24 weeks. However, this updated upper limit can only be used on the recommendation of two registered medical practitioners. And for beyond 24 weeks of gestational stage, medical termination of pregnancy is allowed if serious foetal abnormalities are found.

The woman, who is from Pune district, had approached HC on January 12, when she was in roughly her 32nd week of pregnancy, seeking permission to get an abortion, on the ground that a routine medical check-up showed serious foetal anomalies and abnormalities.

She said on December 22 she underwent a sonography and foetal anomaly scan, which showed that the foetus suffered from multiple anomalies, including microcephaly and lissencephaly. The next day, on January 13, the bench directed the medical board of Sassoon General Hospital to examine the woman and submit a detailed report to the court.

Accordingly, on January 16, the medical board submitted its report which confirmed the overall medical condition of the foetus and detection of microcephaly and lissencephaly. However, they opined against medical termination of the pregnancy claiming that the abnormalities were treatable and that the gestational stage was advanced — 33 weeks.

The woman’s counsel, advocate Aditi Saxena submitted that Section 3(2B) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 allows medical termination of pregnancies, irrespective of the gestational period, where the medical board finds serious foetal abnormalities.

Apart from pointing out that the woman and her husband were people of modest means, Saxena submitted in these conditions, rejection of the petition based only on the opinion of the medical board. She said it would rob the woman of not only her reproductive autonomy but her fundamental right to privacy, her right to make an informed choice about herself and her body.

She said the medical board did not take into account the associated trauma and difficulty of parents having to care for this baby all the time with certain sub-optimal development and distinct possibility of death before the age of 10. HC accepted her contentions.

According to the court, the board said no only because of being late. “And that is plainly wrong, as we have seen. Given a severe foetal abnormality, the length of the pregnancy does not matter,” the bench ruled and allowed the woman to get her pregnancy medically terminated.

The bench said the court cannot ignore socio-economic condition of the petitioner and once the conditions in the statute (MTP Act) are met, neither the medical board nor the court can “abrogate the petitioner’s rights” to get her pregnancy medically terminated.

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