Supreme Court allows rape victim to abort 24-week-old foetus

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Supreme Court on Thursday allowed a rape victim based in Mumbai to abort her 24-week-old abnormal fetus after the Centre clarified that a 20-week cap on termination of pregnancy is not applicable if the pregnant woman’s life is found to be in grave danger.

At the hearing, a Bench of Justices J.S. Khehar and Arun Mishra perused a confidential medical report on the condition of the woman, identified as only ‘Ms. X’, filed by a team of doctors at the K.E.M. Hospital.

Justice Khehar read out the findings in the report to Attorney-General Mukul Rohatgi, who was summoned to assist the court in the case. The doctors had concluded that the pregnancy was 23 to 24 weeks old.

It said that continuance of the pregnancy would involve “grave danger” to the life of the pregnant woman.

Mr. Rohatgi clarified that though The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 mandates against abortion after pregnancy crosses the 20-week threshold, there are exceptions

“If the mother is in danger, there is no time limit for conducting an abortion. If you have to save the life, you need to cross the limit of 20 weeks,” Mr. Rohatgi submitted.

The victim had challenged Section 3 (2) (b) of the 1971 Act, which allowed abortion only if pregnancy was under 20 weeks old and done on the advice of at least two registered medical practitioners, who should certify that the pregnant woman was risking “grave injury to her physical and mental health” or there was a danger of the child being born with a severe mental or physical handicap.

But Mr. Rohatgi pointed to Section 5 of the same Act, which overrides Section 3. Section 5 holds that none of the restrictions mentioned in Section 3 would apply if “termination of pregnancy is immediately necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman.”