Monday, July 3, 2017

Supreme Court allows abortion of 26-week-old foetus, cites medical report

THE SUPREME Court on Monday allowed a woman who is in her 26th week of pregnancy to undergo medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) after a medical board concluded that the foetus was suffering from severe cardiac ailments and could pose a risk to the mother’s life. “Keeping in view the report of the medical board, we are inclined to allow the prayer and direct medical termination,” said a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar.

Dictating the order in open court, Justice Misra said the reproductive choice of a woman was part of her personal liberty. The order came on a petition filed by the woman and her husband, both from West Bengal, seeking permission to abort the foetus. The court directed that the medical procedure be carried out “forthwith” at the IPGMER SSKM Hospital in Kolkata.

The medical board, constituted on the court’s directions, had recommended MTP as a “special case” and warned of “mental injury” to the woman in case it was not carried out. The doctors had said that the infant, if born, would have to undergo “complex” medical procedures and the chances of survival were low. What makes the court’s order significant is that the law does not allow MTP beyond 20 weeks.

In her petition to the court, the woman had submitted a medical report which said the foetus suffered from a condition called pulmonary atresia, a birth defect of the pulmonary valve which controls blood flow from the right ventricle to the pulmonary artery. Senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, who represented the petitioners, cited the medical board’s report stating that failure to carry out MTP would prove fatal to the mother.

Perusing the report, the court said, “it is clear as crystal that the medical board is of the view that there is a case for termination of pregnancy as a special case...” The petitioners had also challenged the constitutional validity of Section 3(2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act which prohibits abortion of a foetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Subsequently, they decided to limit their arguments to the case in hand. On June 23, the court had ordered that a medical board of seven doctors of SSKM Hospital be set up to examine and report on her health.

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