Law cannot be construed in a manner incompatible with life: Delhi High Court allows medical termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks

The Court held that if the condition of the foetus is incompatible with life, the right to terminate the pregnancy cannot be denied merely because gestation has continued beyond 20 weeks.
Law cannot be construed in a manner incompatible with life: Delhi High Court allows medical termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks

Law cannot be construed in a manner incompatible with life, the Delhi High Court said as it allowed the medical termination of pregnancy of a person despite the pregnancy period having crossed the statutorily permissible limit of 20 weeks.

The order was passed by a Division Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh in a petition by a pregnant woman suffering from Anencephaly+, a fetal abnormality.

The petitioner's request for medical termination of pregnancy was turned down by the medical practitioner on the ground that the permissible limit of 20 weeks under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act had already crossed.

After the petitioner moved the High Court challenging sections 3(2)(b) and 5(1) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act which stipulates a ceiling of 20 weeks for an abortion, a direction was passed by the Court to constitute a Medical Board to examine her.

The Medical Board concluded that the petitioner was in the 25th week of her pregnancy and the foetus suffered from a condition which was incompatible with life.

The petitioner thus pressed for a direction to allow medical termination of pregnancy.

The Court noted that although there was an absolute proscription in Section 3(2)(b) of the MTP Act in respect of termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks, the Surpeme Court had, on several occasions, allowed medical termination of pregnancy even beyond that period.

Allowing the petitioner to medically terminate her pregnancy, the Court observed that while doing so, it was not infracting Section 3 or Section 5 of the MTP Act.

"Section 3(2)(b) permits termination of pregnancy, inter alia, where there is substantial risk of serious physical or mental abnormalities, were the child to be allowed to be born substantial risk of serious physical or mental abnormalities, were the child to be allowed to be born. Seen in isolation, it places a gap of 20 weeks gestation for this to be permissible. At the same time, Section 5 relaxes the rigours of Section 3(2) in a case where the termination of the pregnancy is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman. We are also of the opinion that these provisions have to be construed as part of one cumulative dispensation and not isolated from each other," the Court said.

It added, in a case where the condition of the foetus is, as in the present case, incompatible with life, the rigour of Section 3(2) deserves to be relaxed, and the right to terminate the pregnancy cannot be denied merely because gestation has continued beyond 20 weeks.

"Law, needless to say, cannot be construed in a manner incompatible with life," the Court added.

In a case where the condition of the foetus is incompatible with life, the right to terminate the pregnancy cannot be denied merely because gestation has continued beyond 20 weeks.
Delhi High Court

In view of the above and the Medical Board's opinion that medical termination of pregnancy could be offered, the Court ultimately allowed the petitioner's prayer for medical termination of pregnancy.

Advocate Siddharth Seem appeared for Petitioner.

Advocates VSR Krishna, V Shashank Kumar appeared for AIIMS.

[Read Order]

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