The Supreme Court today allowed a 26-year-old alleged rape victim to abort a 24-week old foetus with severe abnormalities (despite a ban on medical termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks) as a medical board ordered by it declared that there was a danger to the mother’s life.
A bench headed by Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar made it clear that the exception can be considered only in cases where a mother’s life is in danger. The Centre also admitted that the 20-week cap is not applicable in cases where the mother’s life is in danger
On Friday the court had asked Maharashtra government to set up a medical board to examine the mother. Maharashtra government agreed that it will be set up at Mumbai's K E Medical College Hopital
The order came after the suggestion of Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar who appeared for the centre that a board be set up to examine the woman before proceeding ahead with the matter.Initially SG recommended a board at AIIMS, New Delhi but Senior lawyer Colin Gonsalves said the woman is in Mumbai and is sick to travel.
A bench headed by Justice Khehar had ordred that a report be placed before the bench today after which "other serious issues involved will be heard".
The foetus suffered from Anencephaly that is, its without major portion of brain, scull and scalp. She had earlier requested doctors to allow her abortion but what stood in the way was section 3 (2) (b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP), the Indian abortion law which prohibits termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks even if there was a fatal risk to the mother and the foetus.
Senior Advocate Colin Gonsalves and Satya Mitra had earlier mentioned the matter for urgent hearing, saying that in the present case, the life of the woman is in grave danger. If the woman succeeds, it kindles hope for the lakhs of women forced to give birth to abnormal or stillborn babies every year.
As per a WHO estimate, Out of the 26 million births that occur in India every year, approximately 2-3 per cent foetuses have a severe congenital or chromosomal abnormality.
Human Rights Law Network said in the petition: "The 20 week period may have been reasonable when the section as enacted in 1971 but has ceased to be reasonable today where technology has advanced and it is perfectly safe for a woman to abort even up to the 28th week and thereafter”.
“Determination of fetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week and by keeping the ceiling artificially low, women who obtain reports of serious fetal abnormality after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony on account of the deliveries that they are forced to go through. The ceiling of 20 weeks is therefore arbitrary, harsh and discriminatory and violative of right to equality and right to life of the Constitution”, they said.
Read the order here.