Malformed baby born to woman whose abortion plea was denied

A doctor at KEM Hospital where the baby was born, said it is difficult to predict the lifespan of such babies.  

On March 27, the Supreme Court rejected the plea of a 28-year-old Mumbai woman to abort her pregnancy in the 27th week. The SC stated that the baby could be ‘born alive’ during the process of abortion.

On Saturday midnight, the woman gave birth to a baby boy with the Arnold Chiari Type II syndrome, which leads to a malformed brain and spinal cord; the baby is now battling for life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

Before delivery, the baby’s head was larger than usual due to fluid accumulation in the brain. The doctors removed nearly a litre of fluid to reduce its size, but the mother still had to have sutures after the birth. The baby also had a ruptured meningocele, a fluid filled sac protruding from the spinal column, which makes him prone to infection.

Hard to predict lifespan

A doctor from KEM Hospital, Parel, where the baby was born, said that it is difficult to predict the lifespan of such babies; children may live with paraplegia, lack of bowel and bladder control and other disabilities. Dr Sangeeta Ravat, head of neurology at KEM, said that the Arnold Chiari syndrome has wide spectrum of malformations. “In some cases, timely intervention helps to a certain extent. But in cases where the babies have meningocele or hydrocephalus (fluid accumulation in the brain), they live with permanent disabilities.”

The parents say they do not want to take the baby home. “I want to give up the baby for adoption,” Sarika Ghatge (names changed) says, from her hospital bed. “He has so many medical needs. How will we fulfil them?” Ms. Ghatge gave up her job in a private firm to concentrate on her baby, and her husband Hemant works in the HR department of a hospital in Andheri and earns ₹21,000 a month.

He says, “They have told us that the baby would need a spine and brain surgery. We don't know what to say. Everyone looks at us as if we are bad people when we say we can’t take the baby home.”

The couple found out about the anomaly in the foetus in the 24th week of pregnancy. The woman says that she grew up with a mentally and physically challenged younger brother, and could not imagine her child suffering the same way. “I didn’t want to give birth to the baby,” she says.

“It is not easy for me to say this but why would any mother want her child to live with sufferings?” The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, allows abortion only up to 20 weeks; they had no choice but to approach the Supreme court, which rejected the appeal.

“It is a painful thought that you want your unborn baby to die,” Ms. Ghatge says, weeping. “But now that I have given birth, it is even more painful and traumatic for me and my family. Will the court now take the responsibility of the baby?” Her husband says that it is extremely difficult to see the newborn is such a bad condition. “The court has not done justice to us,” he says, “And neither has the law of this country, which forces sufferings on people.”

Ms. Ghatge is the third woman since 2008 whose appeal has been rejected by the SC. Gynaecologist Nikhil Datar was the first doctor to approach the SC in 2008 for a Niketa Mehta, 24 weeks pregnant woman at that time, who wanted to abort her pregnancy due to a foetal anomaly. That case too was rejected, but Ms. Mehta had a miscarriage and lost the baby. Dr. Datar, who was involved in the Ghatge’s case too, says that the law is simply pushing women to opt for illegal abortions. “These are women who have valid reasons for abortions.”

On Monday, a woman from Kolkata was allowed to abort with severe anomalies. Dr Devi Shetty, who gave an expert opinion in the Kolkata case, said that he sees nearly 100 children everyday of which at least 20 suffer from inoperable heart conditions. He said that it is very disturbing to see babies growing up knowing well that they will have a painful life: “No matter what you do, they cannot live longer. If you can allow abortion up to 20 weeks, why not push it to 28? What changes? If anything, the mental anguish caused to the parents, especially the mother who carries the baby can be avoided.”

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2022 8:12:10 AM |

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