SC denies permission for abortion of foetus with severe disabilities
The SC denied permission for abortion to a pregnant woman despite a medical report detecting the foetus with Type-2 Arnold-Chiari malformation, implying severe physical and mental disabilities. The woman, who has had first-hand experience with people with disabilities, comes from a low economic background, and is 27 weeks pregnant. However, the SC bench observed the report predicted possibilities of the baby "being born alive".
SC rejects abortion of foetus suffering from Down syndrome
The SC recently rejected a woman's plea for abortion of her 26-week old foetus suffering from Down syndrome. The decision came after a doctors' panel submitted it had chances of survival, and there was no risk to the mother's health. This is the third time a woman approached the SC seeking permission for abortion, reflecting the pitiable state of laws. Let us explore them.
Legality of abortion in India
Till the 'Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act' was passed in 1971, all abortions, except in cases of danger to the mother, were illegal under the Indian Penal Code, Section 312. MTP now allows abortions upto 12 weeks. If the foetus is between 12-20 weeks old, permission is needed from two medical practitioners. Abortion is allowed in cases of danger to the foetus or mother.
Proposed amendments to the MTP
Acknowledging the growing number of sexually active unmarried women, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in 2014 proposed extending the pregnancy limits from 20 to 24 weeks. It recommended legalizing abortions before 12 weeks on the woman's request, without a doctor's opinion. The draft amendment, which hasn't been cleared yet, permitted abortion beyond 24 weeks in case of grave danger to the foetus.
"If government prevents abortion of differently-abled children, they should provide the means for their sustenance." Dr Duru Shah, Gynecologist. "India isn't equipped with a support system for differently-abled children. Strain is borne by mothers." Olga Tellis, journalist. "(Activists) believe children with disability deserve the right to live as much as anyone. (Court) should give her the support to raise the child." Flavia Agnes, activist.
Abortions in India: Statistics
A 2016 government survey showed that 2% of rural pregnancies and 3% of urban pregnancies ended in abortions. 14% abortions were reported for urban women aged below 20. Failed/wasted pregnancies constituted 4% cases in rural provinces and 6% cases in urban areas.
Dismal ground situation: Rape survivor caught up in bureaucratic tangles
Abortion laws, apart from being restrictive, aren't implemented properly either. Recently, Chhattisgarh police sent a 17-week-pregnant rape victim to seniors for permission, despite it being a valid case for abortion. Jashpur district hospital reportedly had no "expert doctors", so she was sent to Chhattisgarh Institute of Medical Science. It sought a number of documents, all unwarranted. HC finally granted her permission after 20 weeks.
If no legal option, it's self-induced abortions and backstreet providers
In the absence of legal options, many women in India go for self-induced abortions or backstreet providers. Ten women die daily due to unsafe abortions, out of 68 lakh pregnancy terminations annually. The third leading cause of maternal deaths claims 8% victims every year.
Abortion laws around the world
In Europe, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic have very restrictive laws; termination is possible only when there's threat to the mother's life. In Portugal, a 2007 referendum legalized termination on demand till 10 weeks. In US, states impose restrictions rather than banning abortions. Uruguay allows abortions till 12 weeks irrespective of circumstances, unlike in El Salvador, where women have been jailed for miscarriage.