Acting on a plea challenging the validity of abortion laws in India, the apex court has delivered an historic judgment on Monday. The Supreme Court has permitted the termination of a 24-week-old pregnancy after medical reports confirmed that the foetus had severe abnormalities and could gravely endanger the “mental and physical health” of the mother.
This verdict has superseded the 20-week ceiling imposed under the section 3(2) of the Medical termination of Pregnancy act of 1971. A bench comprising of Justice Jagdish Singh Khehar and Justice Arun Mishra said, “We direct the liberty to terminate the pregnancy by the pregnant mother in accordance with law.”
This decision came after a report of a medical board of KEM Hospital-Mumbai where the team of seven doctors after examining the pregnant mother gave their opinion.
Filed by an alleged rape survivor who was in her 24th week of pregnancy, the petition contested that the section 3(2) of the Medical termination of Pregnancy act 1971 is in direct contravention to Article 14 and 21, i.e right to life and liberty. It argues that the current abortion laws deny women’s rights to abort in case of extraordinary medical complications.
The woman who was allegedly raped by her fiance on false pretext of marriage said that her condition was ‘very poor’ and her foetus had abnormalities which will cause mental and physical distress to her. The current law imposes a ceiling of 20-weeks and does not permit an abortion post twenty weeks of pregnancy.
The petition argues that the ceiling is unreasonable, arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory, monstrous and violates the right to life and equality and focuses more on the ‘physical’ health of the mother and not “mental, psychological and complete health.” The petitioner had sought that the relevant section must be declared unconstitutional or read down.
The Indian abortion laws fall under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, which was enacted by the Parliament earlier in 1971 with the intention of reducing the incidents of illegal abortion and consequent maternal mortality and morbidity. It came into effect on April 1, 1972 and was amended in 1975 and 2002.