NEW DELHI:The Supreme Court on Monday while permitting a West Bengal-based woman, who is in her 26th week of pregnancy, to abort her foetus suffering from severe cardiac anomalies said a woman has a sacrosanct right to her bodily integrity and it’s her choice.
After examining the medical report prepared by a seven member board of doctors, a Bench of justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar said, “The procedure of termination of pregnancy be carried out forthwith at the IPGMER SSKM Hospital in Kolkata after considering the report stating there was threat to the woman’s life if pregnancy was continued.”
At present, Indian laws do not permit abortion beyond 20 weeks of conception until and unless there is a grave danger to the woman and child.
Justice Misra, while dictating the order said, “The right of a woman to have a reproductive choice is the right of personal liberty.”
According to the medical report, if the child was born alive, he/she would have to undergo multiple cardiac surgeries and will entail high morbidity and mortality rate. The order came on a petition filed by a 33-year-old Kolkata based woman and her husband seeking permission to abort her foetus on the ground of abnormalities which could be fatal to her.
During the brief hearing, the Centre objected to the report stating that it relied on the opinion of just two gynecologists. This prompted the judges on the Bench to ask, “There is a concept called state interest. The state interest is only to see the child and not to destroy the child. Then why are you opposing it?”
The plea said the determination of foetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week and, by keeping the ceiling artificially low, women who obtain report of serious foetal abnormalities after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony because of the deliveries they are forced to go through.
With this, the issue of amendments in the proposed Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, which started in 2014, are under question regarding why the Bill is still hanging in balance.
The Bill could not be introduced in Parliament as there is no Cabinet approval so far for it. If the Bill is passed, it would allow women to do away with the time limit for abortion in case of substantial foetal abnormalities. The amendment will also end litigation seeking abortion on grounds of abnormal foetus detected in later stages of pregnancy.
The case so far
Based on the plea submitted by the pregnant Kolkata woman and her husband seeking termination of her pregnancy, the Supreme Court writes to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the West Bengal government challenging constitutional validity of provisions in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. It also seeks the constitution of a medical board to ascertain the mother’s and foetus’s health.
The apex court constitutes a medical board of seven doctors from the SSKM hospital in Kolkata to examine the health of the woman requesting the abortion. The Bench of justices D Y Chandrachud and S K Kaul asks the medical board to submit a report on the mother’s and the foetus’s health by June 29.
The court asks the woman to examine the medical report and inform the Bench of her stand. The vacation Bench of justices A M Sapre and S K Kaul, after examining the medical report also asks the counsel appearing for the state to give a copy of the report to the counsel of the petitioners, the couple and the Centre, as well as to all other counsel appearing for “respective respondents” to “pursue and seek appropriate instructions”.