The Supreme Court Thursday sought response from the Centre and the Maharashtra government on a plea of an alleged rape victim challenging provisions of the abortion law which prohibits termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks even if there is a fatal risk to the mother and the foetus.
A bench headed by Justice J S Khehar issued notice for Friday and asked the petitioner to serve it Wednesday itself through the Attorney General’s office. Senior advocate Colin Gonsalves, appearing for the woman, said that constitutionality of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 is being challenged in the plea as it puts a ceiling of 20 weeks for an abortion.
The bench also comprising Kurian Joseph and Justice Arun Misra said that it will seek the report of medical board on the condition of the woman.
The fresh petition filed by a woman, who alleged that she was raped by her ex-fiance on the pretext of marriage and got pregnant, sought a direction to quash section 3 (2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 to the extent that it puts a ceiling of 20 weeks for an abortion as it is ultra vires to Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
The petition contended that the ceiling is unreasonable, arbitrary, harsh, discriminatory and violative of the right to life and equality. It also sought an order for the Centre to provide necessary directions to hospitals for setting up an expert panel of doctors to assess the pregnancy and offer medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) at least to those women and girls who are survivors of sexual violence and have passed the period of 20 weeks.
The woman, who is in 24th week of pregnancy, said she belongs to a poor background and her physical and mental health have been put to risk due to the 20 weeks limit for abortion as her foetus suffers from anencephaly (a serious birth defect in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull) but doctors have refused to abort it.
The woman said the foetus has abnormalities and will cause mental distress to the mother and challenged the constitutional validity of section 3(2) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act prescribing a ceiling of 20 weeks.
The plea also said the expression “save the life of the pregnant woman” in Section 5 of the MTP Act, should include “the protection of the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman” and also incorporate situations where serious abnormalities in the foetus are detected after the 20th week of pregnancy.
The apex court is already hearing plea of Mumbai-based doctor Nikhil D Datar, who had also raised the same issue in 2009 and sought an amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.