NATIONAL

SC allows 13-year-old girl to terminate pregnancy

Mother and child at risk if allowed to continue, say doctors

“How can a 13-year-old become a mother?”

The question from Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra laid bare the vulnerability of a 13-year-old rape survivor, who was allowed by the Supreme Court on Wednesday to terminate her 31-week-old pregnancy.

A medical board opinion said medical termination of her pregnancy was possible at this stage, but would have serious consequences on the Class 7 student from Mumbai.

Medical experts, whose opinion was sought by the Supreme Court, said if the pregnancy was allowed to continue, the baby would be pre-term and would require intensive neo-natal care. Either way, the doctors told the Supreme Court, both the ‘mother’ and the baby would be at grave risk.

A Bench of three judges led by Chief Justice Misra, accompanied by Justices Amitava Roy and A.M. Khanwilkar, allowed the termination of pregnancy.

“Considering the age of the petitioner, the trauma she has suffered because of sexual abuse, the agony she is going through and the opinion of the medical board favouring termination of pregnancy, the termination of pregnancy should be allowed,” the court ordered.

The court said the medical procedure should be preferably conducted on September 8 at JJ Hospital in Mumbai.

At the hearing, the rape survivor’s counsel, advocate Sneha Mukherjee, submitted that the pregnancy itself was detected when it was 27 weeks old.

“The child now knows she is pregnant. The knowledge has affected her critically,” she submitted.

Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar pointed out that usually delivery happens in the 36th or 37th week. “Already 31 weeks have passed,” Mr. Kumar submitted.

Ms. Mukherjee said an FIR had been registered for rape and under provisions of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

20-week cap

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 does not allow abortion if the pregnancy has crossed 20 weeks. Under the 1971 law, an exception to the 20-week cap 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. This was meant to be a safeguard against female foeticide.

The court had recently denied permission to a 10-year-old rape survivor from Chandigarh to abort her foetus.

Shortly after, the girl gave birth. The apex court awarded Rs. 10 lakh compensation for the girl.

‘Untold suffering’

Senior advocate Indira Jaising who is intervening in the Supreme Court in the issue, had argued that the delay in offering urgent medical help to such abused women and children had led to untold suffering for them.

For a 10-year-old, pregnancy is indeed a ‘life-threatening’ situation warranting immediate intervention under the MTP Act , Ms. Jaising had argued.

Recently, the Centre had written to States and Union Territories about the apex court’s suggestion to appoint permanent medical boards to provide women, especially rape survivors, urgent access to medical care and to consider their requests for abortion.

The child now knows she is pregnant. It has affected her critically

Sneha Mukherjee

Rape survivor’s counsel

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