In a first, SC orders Rs 10 lakh relief for rape victim denied abortion
The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Bihar government to pay Rs 10 lakh in compensation to a destitute woman who was raped and not allowed an abortion due to delays by the high court and a Patna hospital.
The court had in May denied the 35-year-old woman, who is also HIV positive, the permission to abort as she was 26-week pregnant. India has a 20-week legal ceiling on abortion except when there is a risk to mother’s life.
“The fundamental choice (of termination of unwanted pregnancy) which is available in law is totally curtailed and scuttled, the victim is entitled for compensation, for the entire action has caused her immense mental torture,” the court said.
This is the first time that a rape victim has been awarded compensation for delays preventing her from getting the pregnancy terminated.
The woman had sought an abortion saying the foetus was at risk of contracting the deadly infection.
She had decided to exercise her right, being a victim of rape, not to bear the child, the court said. When there was possibility of the child likely to be HIV positive, the authorities should have assisted the woman instead of delaying the process.
“There was no justification to push back her rights and throw her into darkness to corrode her self-respect and individual concern,’’ a bench of justice Dipak Misra and justice AM Khanwilkar said.
There is a growing demand to revisit the abortion law with more and more rape victims approaching the top court for relief, as by the time they exhaust all options, the pregnancy is far too advanced.
While the Supreme Court refused abortion, it continued hearing the petition for compensation.
Divorced and left to fend for herself on the streets of Patna, the woman was not even aware of her pregnancy and the disease till she was rescued and brought to a shelter home in late January.
She was 18 weeks pregnant when she sought an abortion and was taken to the Patna medical college, the plea said. Instead of going ahead with the termination, the hospital delayed the process.
Two weeks later, she sought the Patna high court’s permission as she was 20 weeks into her pregnancy. Those proceedings, too, got delayed and her petition was turned down.
The sum of Rs 10 lakh is in addition to Rs 3 lakh given to a woman under a rape victim compensation scheme.