Supreme Court allows abortion of 26-week-old foetus which could be fatal for mother

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THE SUPREME Court 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.

Proceeding of the petition

  • A petition was  filed by the woman and her husband, both from West Bengal, seeking permission to abort the foetus.
  • 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.
  • 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.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971

  • The Act made the abortions legal up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The provisions of the Act are as follows

  • The termination of pregnancy requires the opinion of two doctors.
  • The abortion can happen if the physical or mental health of the mother is in danger due to pregnancy. If there is a risk of the birth of a handicapped or malformed baby.
  • Pregnancy of unmarried girls under 18 years of age, with the consent of the guardian. Pregnancy resulting due to rape. Pregnancy resulting due to the failure of sterilization.

Brief History

Abortion and family planning in India During British Rule

  • The India Penal Code, 1860 stated induced abortions as illegal. Induced abortion means purposely causing miscarriage.
  • The only exemption was if it is done to save the life of the mother.

Before 1971

  • India was the first country to introduce family planning programme in 1952. The idea behind this programme was to popularise the concept of contraceptives so that the pregnancy can be avoided or delayed. But, the efforts were not enough to control the population.
  • Sterilisation remained the only way for contraception after the family deciding to stop after having the desired number of children.

After 1971

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act was enacted in the light of rising population and also preventing maternal deaths from illegal abortions without proper equipment and training. The MTP Act supports the pro-choice agenda and abortion provisions are determined by this Act.

The Act can be misused in the following ways

  • The abort unwanted pregnancy the women can cite the reason of contraceptive failure.
  • The issue became so severe that the sex-selective abortions started taking place.
  • With the use of Imaging technology like ultrasound with the intention to see the well-being of the foetus and to identify any danger to the lives of mother and child.
  • But the increase in the number of ultrasound clinics and lack of proper regulations the sex-selective abortions (female) increased to such an extent that the sex-ratio declined.
  • According to census 2011, the abortions happening in a hospital ranges from 32% in Chhattisgarh to 72% in Assam. To address this issue the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act was introduced to stop illegal use of ultrasound machine to determine sex and close illegal clinics.
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