The Supreme Court on Monday permitted a West Bengal-based woman, who is in her 26th week of pregnancy, to abort her foetus suffering from severe cardiac ailments. The apex court relied on the report of the medical board which has advised termination of pregnancy as a “special case” and has said that there was a threat of “mental injury” to the woman if the pregnancy was continued. The doctors have advised that the infant, if born alive, has to undergo multiple “complex” surgeries for severe cardiac ailments and the chances of mortality were high.
“Keeping in view the report of the medical board, we are inclined to allow the prayer and direct medical termination of petitioner number one (woman),” a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar said. The apex court said the procedure of termination of pregnancy be carried out “forthwith” at the IPGMER SSKM Hospital in Kolkata.
The order came on a petition filed by the woman and her husband seeking permission to abort her foetus on the ground of abnormalities which could be even fatal to her. During the hearing today, senior counsel Colin Gonsalves, representing the petitioners, referred to the medical board’s report and said continuing the pregnancy could be “grave” for the woman.
When the counsel appearing for the Centre said the report was based on the opinion of two gynaecologists only, the bench asked, “We cannot understand why you are opposing it”. “There is a concept called state interest. The state interest is only to see the child and not to destroy the child,” the bench said, after which the Centre’s counsel said he was not opposing the prayer for termination of pregnancy.
“On a perusal of the report, 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 court said. Regarding the earlier apex court verdicts referred to by the lawyers who had argued the matter, the bench said cases of such nature “have to rest on their own facts” depending upon the report of medical boards.
The petitioners have 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. However, they had later told the court that they would restrict their prayers to the one pertaining to setting up of medical board to assess the condition of woman and direction for termination of pregnancy.
The apex court had earlier taken on record the report of a seven-member medical board set up by the West Bengal government on its direction and asked the woman to examine the report on her health and apprise it of her stand. The court, on June 23, had ordered setting up of the medical board of seven doctors of SSKM Hospital to ascertain certain aspects relating to the health of the woman and her foetus and submit a report.
The couple, in the plea, had attached a report suggesting that the foetus suffered from serious abnormalities, including cardiac issues. This report had said if the birth was allowed, the baby may not survive even the first surgery and, moreover, the foetus could be fatal to the mother as well.
The petition has said that the woman had suffered immense mental and physical anguish after coming to know of the abnormalities on the 21st week of her pregnancy. The plea has said the determination of foetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week and, by keeping the ceiling artificially low, women who obtain report of serious foetal abnormalities after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony because of the deliveries they are forced to go through.
“The ceiling of 20 weeks is therefore arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” it has said. The petition has claimed that during the examination of the foetus on May 25, the abnormalities were detected including, a combination of four impairments in the heart.