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SC agrees to hear plea of rape victim challenging abortion law

SUPREME COURT 22

New Delhi: The Supreme court on Wednesday agreed to give an urgent hearing to a fresh plea of an alleged rape victim challenging provisions of abortion law which prohibits termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks even if there was a fatal risk to the mother and the foetus.

A bench of Justices AR Dave and L Nageswara Rao said, “Let it be listed tomorrow before the bench which is hearing the similar petition.” The similar plea on the issue is being heard by a bench headed by Justice Dipak Misra. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves and Satya Mitra mentioned the matter for urgent hearing, saying that in the present case, the life of the woman is in grave danger.

The fresh petition filed by a woman, who alleged that she was raped by her ex-fiance on the false promise of marriage and became pregnant, sought a direction to quash section 3 (2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 to the extent that it puts a ceiling of 20 weeks for an abortion as it is ultra vires to Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution. The petition contended that the ceiling is unreasonable, arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative of the right to life and equality.

It also sought an order for the Centre to provide necessary directions to hospitals for setting up an expert panel of doctors to assess the pregnancy and offer medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) at least to those women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence and have passed the period of 20 weeks. The woman, who is in 24th week of pregnancy, said she belonged to poor background and her physical and mental health have been put to risk due to the 20 weeks limit for abortion as her fetus suffers from anencephaly (a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull) and doctors have refused to abort it.

“The denial of her right to an abortion has caused Ms X extreme anguish and has forced her to continue her pregnancy while being aware that the fetus would never survive,” the plea by the woman, who does not wish to be named, said and sought permission to terminate her pregnancy. The woman said the foetus has abnormalities and will cause mental distress to the mother and challenged the constitutional validity of section 3(2) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act prescribing a ceiling of 20 weeks.

The plea said the expression “save the life of the pregnant woman” in Section 5 of the MTP Act, should include “the protection of the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman” and also incorporate situations where serious abnormalities in the foetus are detected after the 20th week of pregnancy.

The apex court is already hearing plea of Mumbai-based doctor Nikhil D Datar who had also raised the same issue in 2009 and sought an amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

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