New Delhi: The Centre has told the Supreme Court that the right to reproductive autonomy does not outweigh the state's interest in protecting the life of a foetus and therefore the ceiling of 20 weeks for abortion cannot be extended in a blanket manner.
The government said that an unborn child cannot protect itself from the harm designed by his/her own mother. The Centre's reply came on a plea which has challenged the constitutional validity of section 3(2) (b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 by which the ceiling of 20 weeks is fixed for an abortion.
The petitioners have sought fixing of rational ceiling at 26 weeks instead of 20 weeks under the act. The petitioners have also sought quashing of a provision which restricts abortions only in case of saving the life of a pregnant woman.
The Centre said that the legislature in its wisdom incorporated strict conditions for carrying out abortions, keeping in mind that the state was morally and duty bound as the guardian of its citizens and has the power to safeguard the life of a foetus in the womb after it attains the stage of viability.
"Petitioners on their right to reproductive autonomy does not outweigh the interest of the state in protecting the life of foetus in the womb, especially from the point of viability i.e from the period of 20 weeks onwards.
"It is a settled law that personal freedom of choice of an individual cannot curtail the freedom or choice of other individuals, specially the most vulnerable and persons who are defenseless. Unborn child cannot protect itself from the harm designed by his/her very own mother," the Centre's affidavit said.
It said that several studies have repeatedly found that even in cases where serious abnormalities were detected after the twentieth week, pregnant woman who chose to carry the pregnancy to term were able to better cope with the loss, mental anguish and trauma as compared to woman who chose to terminate the pregnancy.
The government's affidavit said that India's high maternal mortality rate is on account of woman seeking unsafe abortions beyond the prescribed ceiling of 20 weeks when no foetal abnormalities are detected.
It said that ratio of foetal abnormalities detected in children is extremely rare and hence the same cannot be attributed as the reason for India high maternal mortality rate.