Of the 173 abortion pleas filed in various high courts in three years, 88 were filed in the Bombay High Court, a study has found. The petitions were filed on various grounds, including foetal anomalies, sexual assault, and pregnancy of a minor.
Carried out by Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion, the study revealed that of the 173 cases, medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) was permitted in 139 cases and denied in 29 cases.
“Of the remaining five cases, three petitions were withdrawn by the petitioners, one case was dismissed on account of petitioner not appearing before the medical board (effectively withdrawing her petition), and the last was disposed of, on account of the petitioner having a miscarriage,” the study said.
Pratigya is a network of individuals and organisations working towards protecting and advancing women’s rights and their access to safe abortion care in India.
The study looked at data from the courts between June 1, 2016, and April 30, 2019. While the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, sets the abortion limit at 20 weeks, 108 cases were of women who had crossed the 20-week threshold. Of these cases, 85 requests were permitted while 23 were rejected.
In the Bombay HC, 59 MTP requests came as a result of foetal abnormalities and 24 requests came from women who were raped.
Mumbai-based gynaecologist Dr. Nikhil Datar said it is sad that the courts have to be burdened with these cases. “What we need is an amendment to the MTP Act.” Dr. Datar was the first to approach the Bombay High Court in 2008 on behalf of Niketa Mehta, a 24-week pregnant woman, who wanted to terminate her pregnancy on the ground of foetal anomaly. Since then, Dr. Datar has been at the forefront of dealing with such petitions.
The study highlighted that 40 petitions in all the high courts were of pregnancies below 20 weeks. “The fact that such cases came before the court, to begin with, is troubling and a departure from the text of the Act and its implementation,” the study said.
Of the 40 cases, 30 were of minors — each case was the result of rape. All of these requests were permitted by the courts. “These cases clearly defy the provisions of the MTP Act and represent major problems in the access to abortion,” V.S Chandrashekar, Pratigya Campaign advisory group member, and chief executive officer of Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India, said in a statement.