It has been close to five years since Nima Purohit (37) underwent medical termination of pregnancy. The scars remain. “When we lost our baby, our dreams were shattered,” Nima says. The petition that she and husband Ujjwal Purohit filed in the Supreme Court in 2012 to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, is still pending. Had the Act had special provision to delay abortion beyond the 20-week gestation period, the couple claims, their baby would be alive now.
Nima, a lawyer, underwent an abortion a day before the 20-week gestation period was to end, fearing that her foetus suffered from a brain anomaly and that delaying the decision could be costly. Weeks later, a specialised amniotic fluid test result showed her baby was growing healthy. It was May 2012, two years after their marriage. “We were so excited about our first baby. I went through all necessary scans,” Nima says. In October 2012, she was in her 19th week when an anomaly scan showed that the foetus’s brain was underdeveloped.
Doctors suspected the baby could have Dandy Walker syndrome, which could affect its motor skills and make the child wheelchair-bound for life. “I researched and researched on it. We had only five days left to decide on whether we wanted an abortion,” Nima says. Had the deadline passed, only the court could have permitted pregnancy termination.
Under the MTP Act’s Section 3(2)(b), abortion is legally permitted until the 20th week if a baby suffers from mental or physical handicap. Days before Nima’s tests showed foetus anomaly, another Mumbai-based woman was diagnosed with foetal anencephaly. She had discovered the brain defect after 20 week and was denied permission to abort by the Supreme Court.
“I thought about the woman who was carrying a baby knowing it would die after birth. Those five days were full of dilemma,” Nima says. She underwent an MRI scan and consulted a specialist in Boston Children Hospital in the USA. The specialist said such a baby could be brought up in the USA with available medical and social support.
The Purohits could not migrate to the US, and she knew that the existing social, financial and medical system in India was not strong enough. So, Nima visited a paediatric neurologist in Dadar for second opinion. The neurologist suspected the baby may suffer from Blake’s Pouch Cyst, a brain defect, but required an amniotic fluid test to confirm the disorder. The test takes four weeks. “By then, I would have reached 22 weeks of pregnancy. What if my baby had the disorder and I was denied abortion like the other woman?” Nima says.
It was October 17, a day before she touched 20 weeks of pregnancy, when Nima took the hard decision to let go of her baby. Days later, her final test reports showed the baby suffered no brain defect. “If only there was some provision in the Act for special cases, I would have perhaps continued with pregnancy. Such tests or their timely diagnosis are not in our hands,” Nima says.
For next two years, Nima tried to get pregnant in vain. She even had failed attempts at in-vitro fertilisation. Doctors could only advice her to forget about her past pregnancy. Stress was responsible for her failed pregnancies, they would say. She and her husband Ujjwal, a businessman, filed a petition in the Supreme Court to amend the MTP Act. Her petition, along with several others on this issue, is set to get clubbed for a single hearing now.
“We are demanding that the pregnancy termination cap be raised to 24 weeks. The court has asked the Union government for a report on this, which is pending,” Advocate Sneha Mukherjee said. Mukherjee has represented at least five women in court over the MTP Act since last year. According to gynaecologist Nikhil Datar, who has also filed a petition in this case, several birth anomalies get diagnosed late in the 18th or 19th week of gestation. “It is usually the poorer section that bears the brunt of delayed diagnosis,” he says.
After her abortion, Nima and Ujjwal underwent genetic tests to ensure nothing was wrong with them. When attempts to conceive kept failing, she had to start meditation to relax herself. In 2015, she conceived again. Prahil is now two years old. “He is normal,” is how she describes him first. In her second pregnancy, though, she says she was sceptical during the anomaly scan. “Deep down, I can never forget the baby I lost because I was forced to abort it,” she says.
Several experts have said there is a need to discuss the law in detail. “We expect more such cases to come since awareness on the MTP Act has increased,” Datar says.