The Supreme Court today asked a woman, seeking permission to abort her 24-week foetus on grounds of abnormalities which could be even fatal to her, to examine the medical report on her health and apprise it of her stand. The woman and her husband 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. Taking on record the report of a seven-member medical board set up by the West Bengal government on its direction, a vacation bench of Justices A M Sapre and S K Kaul said it has perused the report. “We request the counsel appearing on behalf of state to give one copy of the report to the counsel appearing on behalf of the petitioners (couple and the Centre) and also to all other counsel appearing for respective respondents to enable them to pursue and seek appropriate instructions,” it said. The court, which ordered that the report be re-sealed, fixed the matter for further hearing on July three. The apex court, on June 23, had ordered setting up of the medical board of seven doctors of the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata to ascertain certian aspects relating to the health of the woman and her 24-week foetus and sought the report by today.
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 court had on June 21 sought responses from the Centre and West Bengal government on the plea. “Having due regard to the urgency of the matter and since the petitioners are seeking the appointment of a panel of doctors at a government hospital in Kolkata to examine the state of health of the first petitioner as well as of the foetus, we deem it appropriate that the matter be listed on June 23,” the bench had ordered. 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. “This petition challenges the constitutional validity of section 3(2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) restricted to the ceiling of 20 weeks stipulated therein.
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“This challenge is to the effect that the 20 week stipulation for a woman to avail of abortion services under section 3(2)(b) may have been reasonable when the section was enacted in 1971 but has ceased to be reasonable today where technology has advanced and it is perfectly safe for a woman to abort even up to the 26th week and thereafter,” it said. The plea 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 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.
“It was during a foetal echocardiography conducted on the petitioner on May 25, that it was first suspected that the foetus suffered from Tetrology of Fallot, a combination of four impairments in the heart. Further, a subsequent foetal echocardiography done on May 30, confirmed the same.
“However, petitioner had crossed the 20 weeks mark and medical termination of pregnancy under the MTP Act restricts medical termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks,” her plea said, adding the denial of her right to an abortion has caused her “extreme anguish” and “forced her to continue her pregnancy while being aware that the foetus may not survive”.