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After Bombay High Court’s Rejection, Will SC Allow Woman’s Plea to Terminate 22-week Pregnancy?

According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) 1971, a fetus cannot be aborted after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Rakhi Bose |

Updated:July 7, 2018, 6:15 PM IST
After Bombay High Court’s Rejection, Will SC Allow Woman’s Plea to Terminate 22-week Pregnancy?
Image only for representational purpose. (Getty Images)
New Delhi: The Medical Termination Pregnancy Act 1971 makes abortion a qualified right for women but only within a much debated 20-week ceiling. But can a law, which is almost half a century old, still be relevant to women in contemporary India?

The Supreme Court is set to decide just that on Monday when it will be ruling in favour or against a 20-year-old woman who had moved court against a Bombay High Court order denying her permission to abort an unwanted pregnancy.

The decision may further heat up the longstanding debate on the 20-week ceiling in abortion as mandated by the MTP Act.

Why did Bombay High Court deny the petitioner abortion?

According to the MTP Act, a fetus cannot be aborted 20 weeks after conceiving.

20-year-old Arti (name changed) was 21.3 weeks pregnant when she was denied the right to terminate the pregnancy as the court stated she had exceeded the prescribed time limit under MTP.

The court also said that her reasons for requesting termination were not part of the legislation’s jurisdiction.

What were her reasons for seeking termination?

Arti had stated marital discord and a wish to pursue higher education as the reason to terminate the pregnancy.

According to her plea in the SC, she was married at the age of 14 and started living with her husband from 2016. Within two months of her moving in, she was barred from appearing for her Class 12 examinations. She was also subjected to mental and physical torture for dowry.

After living with her parents for a year she moved back in with her husband only to be tortured again and forced to quit her career.

The petitioner left her husband’s house again but this time with child.

Why are these reasons not permitted under the MTP?

The MTP Act allows women to terminate pregnancy up till 20 weeks.

Section 5 of the Act provides the provision for extension of this ceiling in case there is a substantial risk to life of mother or child, in cases of pregnancies caused by rape or if the fetus exhibits abnormalities that will cause life-long trauma to the child and mother if born.

Marital discord is not explicitly part of Section 5 under the MTP Act and thus it remains unclear if trauma cause by marital discord can be considered ‘substantial risk’.

While previous SC rulings have laid down that the woman has the right to exercise liberty over her own body and the decision to bear child, the Bombay HC held that the MTP Act could be seen to put ‘reasonable restrictions’ on women seeking terminations.

Why is the SC judgment important?

In her plea to the SC, the woman has claimed that in denying her the right to terminate her pregnancy the Bombay HC had violated her right to privacy which was recently declared a fundamental right.

According to her petition, being forced to continue with the pregnancy despite her lack of consent would impinge upon her right to privacy as that would mean her choice to mother a child was being ruled by the MTP Act.

The petition also questions the validity of the 1971 act itself which according to the petitioner is making the decisions of childbearing and motherhood for women.

The petition also claims that the MTP would lead several women who were denied legal abortion to seek illegal abortions from quacks out of desperation.

The MTP Amendment Bill 2014 seeks to increase the abortion ceiling from 20 to 24 weeks. It also seeks to abolish the need for two doctors to sign off on an abortion post 12-weeks of pregnancy.

The SC judgment could give a significant push to the proposed amendment.


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