Supreme Court allows rape victim to terminate ‘post-20 weeks’ pregnancy

The Supreme Court today granted permission to a rape victim-petitioner to terminate her pregnancy, despite her having crossed the twenty week bar laid down under Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi appeared for the Union of India, to assist the Court in its quandary. The Bench, which heard the matter, comprised of Justices JS Khehar and Arun Mishra.

The petitioner, by the pseudonym of Ms. X, had approached the Supreme Court last week challenging the constitutional validity of Section 3(2) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

The said provision does not allow for an abortion after a period of twenty weeks unless there is a threat to the life of the mother. The petitioner had also sought permission for abortion since the doctors had opined that the new born child will not survive beyond a few hours due to severe abnormality.

The court had issued notice to the Central and Maharashtra governments last week and also directed a medical board to be constituted to determine the status of the pregnancy of Ms. X, and to ascertain whether it would be feasible to abort the foetus.

The report, prepared by a board consisting of seven doctors was submitted to the Court today. It corroborated the assertions made during the last hearing by the petitioner’s counsel, Colin Gonsalves.

The report, in its diagnosis in paragraph 4, mentioned that the foetus was not compatible with extra-uterine life, and the continuation of the pregnancy would pose a grave threat to the mental health and physical well being of the expectant mother.

The Bench accepted the contention that while Section 3 does not permit the termination of a pregnancy that exceeds twenty weeks of uterine life, Section 5 lays down exceptions in the interest of the life of the mother. Consequently, it held that the mother, in this particular case, was permitted to abort the foetus.

The Court however, did express brief regret at the ‘Life-versus-Life debate’ that invariably crops up in a case such as the present one. Life inside the uterus is deemed to have come into existence by the 22nd to the 24th week. Therefore, choosing between the mother and the child is generally a moral dilemma after this particular stage. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the Court took the decision of allowing the mother to preserve her mental and physical stability.

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