SC allowing 24-week pregnant woman to undergo abortion is a milestone

It's time we caught up and put our right to body and sexual health first.

 |  2-minute read |   25-07-2016
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In what could be a landmark judgement leading to review of India's antidiluvian abortion laws, the Supreme Court on Monday allowed a 24-week pregnant woman and a rape survivor to undergo abortion given the risk posed by the pregnancy to her health.

A bench headed by Justice JS Khehar said: “In view of the clear findings of the medical board whose examination showed that contained pregnancy could endanger the petitioner’s life, we are satisfied that it may be permissible to terminate pregnancy.”

Given that the petitioner had developed severe foetal anomalies, as per a board of doctors based in Mumbai, the attorney general of India, Mukul Rohatgi, advised the court that under the exceptions granted under Section 5 of The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, the woman must be allowed to undergo an abortion.

According to Indian law, a woman can choose to avail abortion services within 20 weeks of pregnancy.

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The petitioner, a 24-week pregnant woman and a rape victim, had said that the 20-week upper limit of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was "outdated and arbitrary in view of technological advancements and cases of medical complications".

Seeking quashing of the provisions upholding the 20-week restriction, the petition held that a ceiling of 20 weeks was “arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative” of Articles 14 (Right to Equality) and 21 (Right to Life) of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has taken due cognisance of the plea that said forcing a woman to go through an unwanted pregnancy is an unequivocal violation of her right to dignity and sexual and reproductive freedom as guaranteed under the Constitution.

Though far ahead of outdated reproductive laws prevalent in countries like Ireland, or even in certain American states, the 20-week restraint put a number of women in a spot in India, especially adolescents and poor rape victims who have very little access to health benefits and medical literature/amenities that the government is bound to provide.

Now with Supreme Court making the provision, it's good news for Indian women.

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