The Supreme Court has twisted down a Maharashtra woman’s request to abort her 26-week old foetus distressed with Down syndrome citing the 46-year-old Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which does not allow a woman to abort if her pregnancy crosses 20 weeks
Three months from now, 37-year-old Sulekha (name changed) from Maharashtra will be enforced to deliver a baby with serious brain disorders, thanks to India’s outdated abortion law.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court turned down her request to abort her 26-week old foetus distressed with Down syndrome citing the 46-year-old Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act which does not let a woman abort if her pregnancy crosses 20 weeks.
The law permits termination in extreme cases if prolongation of the pregnancy is likely to cause grave injury to the woman’s health and/or increases or persuades a risk of abnormalities in the child, but in Sulekha’s case, the panel of doctors from Mumbai’s KEM Hospital detained the baby had chances of survival. Also, there was no physical risk to the mother.
While requests from such identically placed women are piling up in the Supreme Court, the Centre is shockingly sitting on the plan to alter the act and extend the time limit.
MEDICAL TERMINATION OF PREGNANCY (AMENDMENT BILL) PENDING
The long-awaited Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill, which anticipates the extension of the legal limit for abortion from the present 20 weeks to 24 weeks is pending since June 2014.
Recently in a distinct case, the Supreme Court had on February 7 allowed a 22-year-old woman to terminate her 24-week pregnancy on the ground that it would endanger her life.
In another case, the Supreme Court in January had allowed a Mumbai-based woman, who was in her 24th week of pregnancy, to terminate her pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, while taking into concern the report of a hospital which had advised that the foetus would not be able to survive without the skull.
When Sulekha’s lawyer entreated with the bench of justices S A Bobde and L N Rao for a special concern on humanitarian grounds, the judges told him “It is miserable that the child may suffer from physical and mental challenges and it’s unlucky for the mother but we can’t let an abortion. We have a life in our hands and we are also tied down by a law”.
“Though everybody knows that children with down syndrome are indeed less intelligent, but they are fine people”, the judges added.
The woman had stated in her request that this disorder could cause physical and mental hindrance and the child would not be able to lead a normal and healthy life.
PLEA SEEKING EXTENSION OF LEGAL LIMIT FOR ABORTION
The Supreme Court is already hearing a request seeking an extension of the legal limit for abortion from the present 20 weeks to 28.
Two women victims of the law and doctor Nikhil Datar, who had in 2008 unsuccessfully challenged in the Bombay High Court the outdated Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971, which imposes the ban – have in their public interest proceedings termed the rule “irrational, outdated, unconstitutional and a violation of women’s rights to equality, health, and life”.
The National Commission for Women, the Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of India (FOGSI), the international community, and several other women groups back the PIL, saying the Act disturbs women’s rights to physical integrity.
Sarojini Sahai, a gynaecologist at Delhi’s St. Stephen’s Hospital states, “Pregnant women are generally asked to undergo tests around the 18th week to find anomalies in the foetus. Some reports take 3 weeks and we lose on the MTP cut-off time. A little extension will come as a boon to a lot of women.”
Out of the 26 million births that happen in India every year, around 2-3 percent foetuses have a severe congenital or chromosomal abnormality. Most countries, including the US, UK-China which have legalised abortion, allow termination after 20 weeks in case of severe foetal abnormalities, or to protect the mental or physical health of a pregnant woman.