SC orders Constitution of medical board to ascertain 23-week pregnant woman seeking abortion

The Supreme Court has ordered the constitution of a seven-member medical board to examine the condition of a woman in Kolkata who sought permission to abort her 23-week foetus. The next hearing of the case is on 29 June.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court had sought responses from the Centre and the West Bengal government on a plea of a 23-week pregnant woman, seeking to abort her foetus suffering from serious abnormalities.

A vacation bench of justices DY Chandrachud and SK Kaul issued notice to the ministry of health and family welfare and the West Bengal government on her plea challenging the constitutional validity of provisions of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act

The bench said, “Having due regard to the urgency of the matter and since the petitioners are seeking the appointment of a panel of doctors at a government hospital in Kolkata to examine the state of health of the first petitioner as well as of the foetus, we deem it appropriate that the matter be listed on 23 June, 2017.”

Advocate Sneha Mukherjee, appearing for the woman and her husband who filed the plea, said that she wants to abort her 23-week foetus on the ground that it suffered from serious abnormalities which could be fatal to the health of mother.

She sought constitution of a medical board at a hospital in Kolkata to ascertain the health of the woman and the foetus

The petitioner in her plea said that she had suffered immense mental and physical anguish after coming to know of the abnormalities in her 21st week of pregnancy

“This petition challenges the constitutional validity of section 3(2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP) restricted to the ceiling of 20 weeks stipulated therein

“This challenge is to the effect that the 20 weeks stipulation for a woman to avail of abortion services under section 3(2)(b) may have been reasonable when the section was enacted in 1971 but has ceased to be reasonable today where technology has advanced and it is perfectly safe for a woman to abort even up to the 26th week and thereafter,” her plea said

The woman said that the determination of foetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week and by keeping the ceiling artificially low, women who obtain reports of serious fetal abnormality after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony because of the deliveries that they are forced to go through

“The ceiling of 20 weeks is therefore arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” she said

She claimed that during the examination of foetus on 25 May, the abnormalities were detected including, a combination of four impairments in the heart

“It was during a foetal echocardiography conducted on the petitioner on 25 May, that it was first suspected that the foetus suffered from Tetrology of Fallot, a combination of four impairments in the heart. Further, a subsequent fetal echocardiography done on 30 May, confirmed the same

“However, petitioner had crossed the 20 weeks mark and medical termination of pregnancy under the MTP Act restricts medical termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks,” her plea said adding that the denial of her right to an abortion has caused her “extreme anguish” and has “forced her to continue her pregnancy while being aware that the fetus may not survive”.

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