Tamil Nadu

HC directive on terminating pregnancies of rape victims

Appalled at many rape victims being made to run from pillar to post to get their pregnancies terminated, the Madras High Court on Friday directed the police and doctors to bear in mind that the law does not require a court’s nod or a medical board’s opinion to terminate pregnancies below 20 weeks.

Justice N. Anand Venkatesh pointed out that Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 clearly states pregnancies that were less than 12 weeks could be terminated on the basis of the opinion of a single doctor and those between 12 and 20 weeks could be terminated based on the opinion of two doctors.

Such opinions could be formed if continuation of pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or cause grave injury to her physical or mental health or if there was a substantial risk if the child was born it would suffer from severely physical or mental abnormalities.

Further, an explanation of Section 3 makes it clear that the anguish caused to a rape victim by her pregnancy should be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman.

Therefore, any doctor dealing with a woman carrying a fetus less than 12 weeks old or a couple of doctors dealing with a woman who was pregnant for 12 to 20 weeks could terminate the pregnancy of a rape victim after obtaining her consent or the consent of her parents if she was a minor, without referring the patient to a medical board, the judge said.

Length of pregnancy

The requirement to produce a rape victim before a medical board would arise only in cases where the length of pregnancy exceeded beyond 20 weeks of gestation.

Even this requirement could be given a go-by if a doctor was of the opinion on good faith that the life of the woman would be in danger if the pregnancy was not terminated immediately, the judge said.

“In such cases, the length of pregnancy will have no relevance and what will be relevant is only the life of the pregnant woman,” Justice Venkatesh added. However, in all cases involving termination of pregnancy where a criminal case was pending, samples should be taken for DNA test of both the mother and the conceptus (foetus and placenta) and they should be sent to the forensic laboratory through police officials concerned and a report also be obtained from the laboratory, he ordered.

The judge directed the Director-General of Police as well as the State Health department to issue necessary circulars highlighting the order passed by him so that the police as well as doctors could be sensitised on the issue and instructed to desist from the practice of subjecting rape victims to unnecessary agony

The orders were passed while disposing of a habeas corpus petition filed by a rape victim, who was made to run from one government hospital to another, even after the court’s intervention, for quite sometime under the guise of obtaining the medical board’s opinion though she was pregnant only for eight weeks.

Taking serious note of the submissions of the petitioner’s counsel Sudha Ramalingam that most of the rape victims in the State end up facing such agony due to the indifference of doctors and the police, the judge directed Additional Public Prosecutor M. Mohamed Riyaz to make sure that the law highlighted by him was followed scrupulously.

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Printable version | Aug 10, 2020 12:03:49 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/hc-directive-on-terminating-pregnancies-of-rape-victims/article28103907.ece

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