The move, if approved by the Supreme Court, could help expedite appeals by scores of women who wish to abort a foetus due to medical complications or rape survivors who have been impregnated by their tormentor
In a bold move, the Centre has asked the Supreme Court to lay down directions for the formation of a body or board which will expeditiously deal with cases wherein a woman has sought legal sanction for aborting a foetus after expiry of the 20-week limit for the medical procedure that is prescribed under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1972.
If the Supreme Court accepts the Centre’s request, it would grant huge relief to scores of women across India who move various courts seeking an abortion due to medical complications suffered by themselves or their foetus or rape survivors who get become pregnant after the crime.
Given the tardy pace of court proceedings and long-winding legal procedures that need to be settled before a court can rule in such cases, often crucial time is lost for the woman. In the event of an adverse order by the court, the woman is either forced to deliver a baby that she doesn’t want, or risk her life during delivery because the court failed to rule in her favour or lost time in doing so, or worse still – resort to an illegal abortion and claim that she had a miscarriage.
A number of cases have come to the Supreme Court and to other courts across the country in the recent past in which women whose pregnancies have run over 20 weeks have asked for permission to abort.
Some of these cases have been rather delicate, as was shown in a recent abortion attempt by parents of a 10-year-old rape victim. She arrived at the top court’s door when she was already 26 weeks pregnant. Formalities (such as forming a medical board) took up time, and when she was finally denied permission to abort (because it was too dangerous for her health), the child had to undergo a C-section surgery as she was 32 weeks into her pregnancy.
Recently, a Mumbai-based woman in her mid-30s who had conceived her first child discovered that her baby could be born with Down’s Syndrome. However, by the time the woman and her husband realised that the foetus had signs of the debilitating syndrome, she was already 21-weeks pregnant – a week more than the legal limit for abortion. The woman is now left with two options – either to take the pregnancy to term, or move court seeking an abortion – a process that will not only be long drawn but also full of personal trauma for her and her husband.
The Centre’s submission for setting up a body to deal with such cases was made, on Thursday (August 31), before the Supreme Court bench of Justices SA Bobde and L Nageshwara Rao.
The counsel for the Centre cited an order of August 25, by the bench of Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta in another case (Nipun Saxena vs Union of India Ministry Of Home Affairs) in which the court had issued notice to the Medical Council of India and medical boards of all the states and Union Territories regarding the early consideration of cases in which the termination of pregnancy is sine qua non in lieu of Section 5 of MTP Act, 1972.
The reference to this by the government counsel came up during hearing in a case in which a woman (mentioned as Mrs A) in her 20s has been pregnant for about 24 weeks and wants an abortion.
At the last hearing the court had ordered the formation of a medical board, comprising a well-known gynaecologist and obstetrician to examine her. This was to decide if medical termination of pregnancy would be life-threatening for the petitioner.
On Thursday, the petitioner’s counsel submitted that procurement and service of that detailed medical report, mentioning the current health status of woman and her child, has not taken place, because of the non-availability of the man/husband who has begotten her pregnant.
In most cases where permission to abort is sought from the courts and a medical board is formed to give its opinion, the testimony of the man or husband who has got the petitioner pregnant is a legal pre-requisite – unless it is establishment that the pregnancy was the result of rape.
If the Supreme Court indeed grants its approval for setting up a permanent body – equipped with medical as well as legal experts – that would examine pleas for abortion in an expeditious manner, legal complications like waiting for all testimonies to be recorded, getting relevant medical examinations conducted seeking dates for hearing the matter, etc may all be resolved, much to the relief of the woman who seeks a termination of her pregnancy.