HC allows teen rape survivor to terminate her 28-week pregnancy
The Punjab and Haryana high court has permitted a 14-year-old rape survivor to terminate her 28-week pregnancy but left it on a PGIMER team of experts, who cited health risks, to take the final call.
The Punjab and Haryana high court has permitted a 14-year-old rape survivor to terminate her 28-week pregnancy but left it on a Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) team of experts, who cited health risks, to take the final call.
“It is not in dispute that the woman has a right to live with dignity in view of Article 21 of the Constitution of India, but in order to exercise that right, the victim has to be alive,” a bench of justice Raj Mohan Singh observed on Wednesday.
“When there is a contingency regarding her chances of survival on being surgically operated, then this right becomes very subjective (right to live with dignity),” it added.
The court also requested PGIMER to admit the survivor and opt for surgical intervention, if needed. “If in the opinion of the team of doctors, the victim is found to be fit enough for surgical intervention, then needful be done. The ultimate decision of the operating team would prevail for the welfare of the victim as well as of the unborn child,” it said.
The high court’s order came while hearing the plea of the parents of the minor, a resident of Panchkula, who was allegedly raped by her neighbour in February this year.
The parents, on August 9, had approached the high court seeking termination of the pregnancy.
“It will be humiliating and dangerous to her life to give birth to a child, keeping in view her tender age. There is a substantial risk in case of delivery of a child and the minor may suffer physical and mental abnormalities,” her parents had submitted before the court.
On Tuesday, the court sought the opinion of experts at PGIMER following which the minor was sent for medical examination on Wednesday.
The foetus was found to be 27 weeks and six days old, according to the medical team. At the end of 37 weeks, the pregnancy is considered full term.
The board opined that the teen’s pregnancy was at an advanced stage and carried more than usual risks when compared to the termination at an earlier gestation period.
“..if pregnancy is terminated at this gestation, it will be like ‘childbirth’ of a viable foetus that is likely to be born alive. This neonate will require prolonged neonatal intensive care and is likely to survive with possibility of long term significant neuro-developmental disabilities due to extreme prematurity,” the board said in the report, which was also included in the court’s judgment
However, if the pregnancy is continued, there might be a risk to the teen’s life due to “suicidal ideas”, it added.
The board recommended that the teen undergo counselling as, upon evaluation, she was found to be mentally distressed and expressed suicidal ideas if the pregnancy continued.
According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, the upper limit for termination of pregnancy is 24 weeks for special categories, including survivors of rape and other vulnerable women such as the differently-abled and minors. The opinion of a medical board is also required in this case, according to a 2021 amendment.
“It is a rare case, after the 2021 amendment, in which the court has allowed termination of pregnancy running effectively into 28 weeks. It is a path-breaking judgment,” lawyer Pranav Chamoli, who appeared for the parents’, said.