Delhi HC permits widow suffering from mental trauma to terminate her 29-week pregnancy

AIIMS psychiatric evaluation says woman is going through immense trauma, showing suicidal tendencies; ‘Right to reproductive choice includes right not to procreate,” says HC

January 05, 2024 05:31 pm | Updated January 07, 2024 11:59 am IST - NEW DELHI

File.

File. | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The Delhi High Court has permitted a widow to terminate her 29-week pregnancy as she is going through “immense trauma” and is showing “suicidal tendencies” after the death of her husband. The court requested the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to conduct the procedure to terminate her pregnancy even though she has crossed the usual 24-week limit.

In India, the rules stipulate a ceiling of 24 weeks of gestation for termination of pregnancy for special categories of women, including survivors of rape or incest, women with disabilities, minors, and other vulnerable women.

Also read | Impacting a woman’s freedom to reproductive choices

The High Court relied on a 2022 Supreme Court judgment, which held that it is the prerogative of each woman to evaluate her life and arrive at the best course of action in view of a change in her material circumstances.

‘Right not to procreate’

“The right to reproductive choice also includes the right not to procreate,” the High Court reiterated, while coming to the conclusion that the widow should be permitted to terminate her pregnancy.

According to the woman’s plea, she got married in February 2023 and her husband passed away on October 19, 2023. Having returned to her parents’ house, she went for an ultrasound on October 31, 2023 and found out that she was 20 weeks pregnant.

The woman said that she had decided not to continue the pregnancy in December 2023 and approached her doctors for medical termination of her pregnancy. Since her gestation period was over 24 weeks, she was not allowed to medically terminate, prompting her to approach the High Court.

‘Not a precedent’

On December 22, the High Court directed AIIMS to constitute a medical board to examine her and submit its report as to whether she is in a condition to undergo the procedure for termination of pregnancy. The AIIMS Medical Board said that the fetus was 29 weeks old, and opined against the termination of the pregnancy.

When the matter came up for hearing on December 27, 2023, the woman said that she was suffering from extreme trauma due to the unfortunate demise of her husband. A subsequent psychiatric evaluation by AIIMS confirmed that she is going through immense trauma and is showing suicidal tendencies.

The High Court made it clear that this order has been passed while keeping in mind the peculiar facts and circumstances of the present case, noting that it should not be treated as a precedent.

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