news Friday, July 31, 2015 - 05:30
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court granted permission to a 14-year-old to undergo abortion after she became pregnant allegedly after being raped by her doctor. The court’s permission is significant because the foetus was over 20 weeks old, and Indian law does not permit abortions beyond that period even though it has been a long-standing demand of women’s groups and reproductive health rights groups. The 14-year-old was allegedly raped by her doctor in Ahmedabad when she sought treatment for typhoid in February. The doctor allegedly injected her with sedatives and raped her. She was denied permission for abortion by Gujarat High Court as she was 24 weeks pregnant. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 permits abortions within 20 weeks, and grants abortions after that only when cases there is grave risk to the health of the pregnant woman. In the instant case, while acknowledging her ordeal, the Gujarat High Court denied permission because it did not cause the minor girl any physical harm. The Court even ordered the government to pay her a compensation of Rs 1 lakh and also directed the district Collector’s office to take care of her wellbeing. In a similar case of rape, the Gujarat High Court had in April refused permission for abortion to a woman from Botad because she was over 20 weeks pregnant. The woman eventually had to give birth to the child which she later abandoned. For rape victims, obtaining abortions is especially difficult when they lodge an FIR as it causes procedural delays. Added to that, as In such cases is not just difficult at the judicial level but it starts with the first step of lodging a complaint or undergoing the required medical tests. In 2014, a 10-year-old rape victim in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, faced delays in undergoing the required medical tests because the police lacked clarity on rules. In 2012, a 14-year-old rape victim in Panchmahals district of Gujarat had to visit three Community Health Centers before she could find a gynecologist. Often, compliance with procedures causes loss of invaluable time, often causing the pregnancy to advance beyond the legally stipulated time-frame for an abortion. Latika Umap of the Family Planning Association in Pune says: “We receive around 2-3 cases annually who come for abortion after the set 20 week period. We do not have any option and so we turn down their request, knowing that the girl does not want the child. I personally fear that she might end up taking a wrong decision of ending up her life.” The Supreme Court’s directions in the Ahmedabad case may prove to be a shot in the arm for the demand to raise the limit of abortion. One such person is Dr Nikhil Datar, who has filed a petition with the Supreme Court. In August 2014,, when the petition came up for hearing, the counsel for the petitioners told the court that the 20-week limit did not allow for the detection certain foetal abnormalities which can only be gauged at a certain level of foetal development. The also said that law violated the constitutional right to life, which includes both right to health and the right to a dignified existence, if a woman is compelled to carry a pregnancy to term against her wishes. Such a situation had repercussions for the family and also put mental strain on everyone involved. The petition also argued that out of 26 million births that take place in India every year, approximately 2-3 percent foetuses have a severe congenital and chromosomal abnormality. The petition buttresses its argument for raising the limit from 20 weeks to 28 weeks by stating that the present MTP Act is based on a survey conducted in 1971, but with technological advancements since an abortion can be safely conducted even in the 28th week.