Concerned by the rising number of abortion pleas before the Supreme Court, the Centre has written to all the states and union territories, asking them to set up permanent medical boards to deal with such cases. Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar conveyed this to a Supreme Court Bench of Justices S A Bobde and L Nageswara Rao on Thursday, during the hearing of a petition filed by a Pune-based woman, who sought permission to abort her 25-week-old foetus on the basis of a medical report which said it had no brain and skull. The court had earlier referred the matter to a medical board. Taking note of the board’s report, which confirmed the anomaly and said there was no treatment available, the court on Thursday allowed the woman to undergo medical termination of her pregnancy.
Earlier, the Supreme Court had asked the Centre to devise a mechanism to deal with abortion pleas in cases where the foetus is more than 20 weeks old and poses a threat to the mother’s life. While hearing similar abortion pleas, another Bench of the Supreme Court had urged the Centre to explore the possibility of setting up permanent medical boards in states to deal with the issue.
The Solicitor General had then told the Court that the government was considering amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, including raising the 20-week limit set for abortion. The Act currently prohibits abortion of a foetus after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Amendments to the Act have been hanging fire, reportedly because of concerns raised by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) about another provision that allows non-allopathic doctors to perform abortions.
Following an abortion racket in Sangli district of Maharashtra, where a homoeopathic doctor helped women undergo illegal abortions, resulting in a death in March, the Health Ministry was asked to first plug the gaps in the implementation of existing laws. It is estimated that in India, a woman dies every two hours because of unsafe abortions. Just 10 per cent of the estimated 70 lakh abortions that happen in India every year are said to be documented, despite the fact that the procedure needs to be notified. The number of documented cases in 2015 was 7.08 lakh. The rest, it is assumed, happens in shady clinics, often run by quacks.
Meanwhile, in another case involving a minor girl from Mumbai who was raped, the Court was informed on Thursday that her medical examination could not take place due to the rain. The matter will now be taken up on Monday. Earlier, a Bench of then Chief Justice of India J S Khehar and Justice D Y Chandrachud, while denying permission to a 10-year-old girl from Chandigarh to abort her 32-week-old foetus after medical reports said it would be dangerous for her health, also asked the government if it would be possible to continue with such medical boards till the MTP law was amended.