In a rare verdict, a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar allowed the abortion of 26 week fetus complying to the plea of Kolkata-based 33-year old lady on the basis of her medical report which said that the child, even if born alive, may not survive for a long time as the baby would have to go through multiple surgery due to congenital disorder.

The SC’s verdict went a step further to say that all women should have the absolute and final say about their bodies and what they want to do with it. The court also accepted that it is extremely painful to carry the fetus inside one’s womb when there is an almost defined chance of the baby not surviving or surviving with medical/surgical aid for the rest of his/her life. In such circumstances, the woman can very well choose to abort the fetus and not want to go over the turmoil of raising a terminally ill child.

In a first world nation like Ireland, NRI Savita had to die because of Ireland’s orthodox Catholic laws regarding abortion

The SC had set up a board of government doctors to examine the health of the lady and the fetus after she sought to abort her pregnancy after 20 weeks on learning of the fetus’ congenital cardiac condition. The board, after thoroughly examining her, gave its report favouring abortion. Accepting the report, the bench granted her permission to undergo abortion “forthwith”. The court has decreed that the abortion is to carried out at SSKM Hospital, Kolkata without any further delay. A medical board comprising of seven specialist doctors have been set up who will be planning and executing the abortion at the aforementioned hospital.

The SC has set many such good examples previously

The court in February came to the rescue of 22 year old pregnant woman who was facing danger to her life due to pregnancy and allowed her to abort her 23 week fetus. In July last year, the court had allowed a rape survivor’s distress plea to abort her 24-week pregnancy citing serious abnormalities with the fetus. In a similar case, a minor rape victim from Gujarat allowed to abort 22-week fetus.

[Also read: Abortion Is A Woman’s Right Which Doesn’t Need A Reason: Bombay HC]

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 and all that needs to be amended in it

According to the MTP Act initiated in 1971, an Indian woman can abort her fetus upto 20 weeks beyond which abortion is illegal. However, often some congenital disorders (especially the cardiac ones) may not be very evident even on ultrasonography before 22-24 weeks. Delay in amending the Act to provide women a wider window to abort terminally ill fetuses is forcing many to move the apex court for permission to end their pregnancies that are beyond 20 weeks.

Back in 1971, the 20 week period had some relevance because abortion post 20 weeks tended to be dangerous to the mother. Modern obstetricians feel that this is a moot point now because medical science has improved by leaps and bounds and the morbidity to the mother is significantly reduced from what it used to be, given the modern medical amenities.

Although the Centre had initiated the process to amend the MTP Act way back in 2014 but it is still waiting for Cabinet approval before it could be introduced in Parliament. The proposed bill intends to extend the permissible period for abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks if the healthcare provider believes the pregnancy involves a substantial risk to the mother or the child. The amendment also allows to do away with the time limit for abortion in case substantial fetal abnormalities.

Let us all take a moment to honestly thank the Hon’ble Supreme Court for giving a pro-choice verdict and truly believing that only a woman has the final say to what happens with her body. First world nations like Ireland and Germany have a lot to learn from the Indian judiciary, it seems.

Image credits: Google

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