What Happens When You Realise Your Foetus is Abnormal 28 Weeks into Pregnancy? You Have to Approach the Court

Social Commentary

What Happens When You Realise Your Foetus is Abnormal 28 Weeks into Pregnancy? You Have to Approach the Court

Illustration: Arati Gujar

Abortion of an unplanned, unwanted, or complicated pregnancy is an extremely fraught topic in many parts of the world. Regardless of the fact that pregnant women are the sole – or at least primary – bearers of the consequences of carrying such pregnancies, the rest of society also feels obligated to pitch on what they are allowed to do with their bodies. This sensitive situation has resulted in legislation governing the termination of pregnancies. In India, that legislation takes the shape of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971, which prohibits the abortion of a foetus after 20 weeks of gestation.

Because of the convoluted legalities surrounding abortion, a Delhi woman had to approach the Delhi High Court seeking permission to terminate her 28-week pregnancy. In what could be construed as a landmark ruling, the HC granted the woman permission after reviewing a report by a medical board from All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). The HC had ordered the board to conduct an investigation on January 7, which discovered that the woman’s foetus suffered from anencephaly, a condition where the skull bones are not formed, making it incompatible with life. After hearing the board’s report, the HC bench, comprising Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh, permitted the woman to terminate her pregnancy.

The ruling by the HC was a progressive one, considering its implications on women’s autonomy over their own bodies. Already suffering the trauma of her difficult pregnancy, the woman also had to endure the complication of filing a legal petition to find a solution to her ordeal. But the precedent set in this case means that the rigid rules governing women’s pregnancies need no longer be considered ironclad, restrictive, and binding. In her petition to the HC, the woman stated that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 violated her constitutional rights.

The woman’s petition stated, “Determination of fetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week and by keeping the ceiling artificially low, women who obtain reports of serious fetal abnormality after the 20th week have to suffer excruciating pain and agony because of the deliveries that they are forced to go through. The ceiling of 20 weeks is therefore arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.” By granting one woman’s petition to terminate her pregnancy in its 28th week, the HC recognised the rights of all women to have a say in what happens to their bodies.

Reproductive rights are women’s rights, and the amount of autonomy women are allowed over their bodies in a society is an indicator of how well it treats them. For India, the Delhi HC’s recent ruling marks an important, significant step on the road to progress.