Observing that a pregnant prisoner should not be treated differently from any other pregnant woman, the Bombay High Court held that if a prisoner wanted to terminate a pregnancy, she should be sent to the civil hospital urgently to help her get it done.
A division bench of Justice V K Tahilramani and Justice Mridula Bhatkar, while observing that a woman alone should have the right to control her body, fertility and motherhood choices, said, “A woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is not a frivolous one. Abortion is often the only way out of a very difficult situation for a woman. If a woman does not want to continue with the pregnancy then forcing her to do so represents a violation of the woman’s bodily integrity and aggravates her mental trauma which would be deleterious to her mental health.”
The directions came while the bench was hearing a suo-motu PIL on health facilities for women prisoners in the state. Earlier this month, the amicus curiae appointed by the court to assist it on the PIL had brought to light the case of an undertrial woman who was arrested on June 25 this year, when she was seven weeks pregnant. When the amicus curiae visited the Thane prison earlier this month, the woman told her about the pregnancy and her wish to terminate the same.
“Just like the right of a woman to be a mother she also has a right not be a mother and her wish has to be respected. This right emerges from her human right to live with dignity as a human being in the society and is protected as a fundamental right under Article 21 (protection of life and personal liberty) of the Constitution of India with reasonable restrictions,” said the court.
The High Court spelled out extensive guidelines to ensure that a prisoner is given access to all medical facilities to help her identify such a situation. “Upon admission into a prison, every woman prisoner of child-bearing age shall undergo a Urine Pregnancy Test (UPT) within five days of being admitted to the jail. A second UPT should be carried out approximately 30 days after admission if the first test was clear. In case, the urine pregnancy test is positive, the medical officer shall inform the prisoner that she can get the pregnancy terminated,” said the court.
In such a case, the termination can be carried out if the woman is pregnant for 12 weeks and has not exceeded 20 weeks or she suffers from any health risk. According to the court, if the prisoner indicates she wants to terminate the pregnancy, her statement should be recorded by the jail authority or the medical officer.
“The medical officer and jail superintendent shall ensure that a woman prisoner is sent on urgent basis to the nearest government hospital to help her terminate the pregnancy,” said the court, directing the escort division to also cooperate in such an event. Every jail has also been asked to maintain ‘Prison OPD Register’ where details of every prisoner examined either by the prison medical officer or visiting doctor are entered.