In a Landmark Judgement, SC Allows Abortion for 24-Week Abnormal Pregnancy

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The Supreme Court granted a 24-week pregnant woman and rape survivor the permission to go for an abortion in a landmark judgment on Thursday. The judgment questioned the constitutional validity of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971, which currently allows abortion only up to the 20th week.

A bench headed by Justice J.S. Khehar said: “In view of the clear findings of the medical board whose examination showed that contained pregnancy could endanger the petitioner’s life, we are satisfied that it may be permissible to terminate pregnancy.”


Picture for representation only. Source: Flickr

The court had on Friday asked Mumbai’s King Edward Memorial Hospital to set up a medical board in 24 hours and examine the feasibility of the abortion. According to a board of doctors, the 26-year-old petitioner had developed severe foetal anomalies. The foetus suffers from anencephaly, a birth defect in which the child is born without parts of the brain and skull. Mukul Rohatgi, the attorney general of India, advised the court that she should be allowed to go for an abortion as per the exceptions granted under Section 5 of the MTP Act. The petitioner also claimed that she isn’t financially well off to rear a special child and that her ex-fiancé raped her after promising marriage. The petitioner said that the ceiling on abortion was unconstitutional and violated a woman’s right to live. She called it “unreasonable, harsh and discriminatory.”

It is easy enough to understand why such an archaic and dusty laws should be done away with, especially if the pregnancy were to cause the mother mental and physical trauma.

In 1971, when the MTP Act was formed, there were no ultrasounds or foetal monitors to carefully map out the baby’s physical development. It is inspiring to know that the Supreme Court has taken due cognisance of the plea that stated that forcing a woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy is an unequivocal violation of her right to dignity, and sexual and reproductive freedom as guaranteed in the constitution.

The first major amendment to the country’s archaic abortion laws was bought about when a couple from Mumbai, Haresh and Nikita Mehta made headlines for their plea to abort their 26-week-old foetus diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. At the time, the Bombay High Court did not allow the parents to terminate the pregnancy, but Nikita suffered a miscarriage and lost the foetus. Six years after this case, the Union Health Ministry drafted the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, Amendment Bill, 2014 that aimed at allowing abortions after 20 weeks under special circumstances.

According to reports, some doctors and most pro-abortion activists are of the opinion that the 20-week period is too short for all genetic abnormalities to manifest. The recent SC ruling is the right step forward in ensuring that India’s reproductive laws revolve around maternal care and motherhood, instead of child rearing.

– Gayatri Manu

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