A 10-year-old rape victim has been left with no choice but to continue with her pregnancy after a medical panel informed the Supreme Court on Friday that an abortion will endanger both the girl and her 32-week-old foetus.
On July 24, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar had directed doctors from P.G.I., Chandigarh, to medically examine the girl and file a report in court on whether the “health of the girl child concerned, who is stated to be of the age of 10 years, and also that of the foetus, would be adversely affected, if the pregnancy is continued for the full term”.
In a short hearing, the court perused the report filed by the doctors in a sealed cover and denied permission for an abortion.
“In view of the reasons recorded, it would neither be in interest of the girl child nor her foetus of 32 weeks to order abortion,” the court observed.
State-level MTP boards
But the Bench went on to urge the government, represented by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar, to consider setting up permanent medical boards across the States so that women, especially child rape victims, could receive expedient access to medical care.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 bars abortion if the foetus has crossed the 20-week mark. An exception to the law is made if a registered medical practitioner certifies to a court that the continued pregnancy is life-threatening for either the mother or the baby.
Presently, women are forced to undertake the cumbersome process of approaching different courts, from district courts to high courts and finally the Supreme Court, for permission to medically terminate their pregnancies which are over 20 weeks.
The frequent number of such cases which have come to the Supreme Court range from child rape victims to destitute women to women with substantial foetus abnormalities.
“In all such cases, time is very short. We are considering those cases under Article 142 (orders passed by the apex court to do complete justice). Can a permanent medical board be set up at State-level to examine the cases till the Bill is pending for amendment into the law?” the Bench asked Mr. Kumar.
An amended Bill of the 1971 law which extends the bar from 20 to 24 weeks has been in the cold storage for the past three years. This draft Bill allows women, whose pregnancies are within 24 weeks, reproductive rights in consultation with their medical practitioners. The draft Bill also allows abortion beyond 24 weeks in case the foetus suffers from substantial abnormalities.
As of now, women who have crossed the 20-week limit need a judicial order to even get medically examined on their plea for abortion.
In the case of the 10-year-old, a Chandigarh district court had refused to let the victim undergo abortion on July 18.
Subsequently, the PIL petition by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava for medical termination of her pregnancy was urgently mentioned in the Supreme Court on July 21. The child was medically examined only on July 26 on the orders of the apex court. She was allegedly raped by her maternal uncle. An FIR has been registered.