Activists welcome Delhi HC nod to woman to terminate 33-week pregnancy on medical grounds

The petitioner, a married woman, approached the Delhi HC soon after she was informed about cerebral abnormalities in the foetus

Activists welcome Delhi HC nod to woman to terminate 33-week pregnancy on medical grounds

Zenaira Bakhsh

Women’s rights activist have applauded the decision of the Delhi High Court to grant a woman permission to terminate her 33-week pregnancy, calling it “progressive”. 

The “ultimate decision” in cases of abortion should recognise the choice of the mother to give birth and the chances of a “dignified life” to the child, the Delhi High Court said on Tuesday, while allowing a 26-year-old woman to terminate her 33-week pregnancy. 

Anuradha Kapoor, a woman’s rights activist and the founder of Swayam, a women’s rights advocacy group, called the decision “excellent” and said that it upholds the “right to woman’s body and right to have a choice”.

“This decision looks at women’s right to have a safe abortion. If you give them this right, they don't need to go for an abortion in an unsafe manner, which can often lead to death,” she said.

“Now the doctors can no longer asks questions such as the husband’s wish in such matters. The law says that the only person whose decision matters is the woman,” said Kapoor, calling it “an empowering statement”. 

The petitioner, a married woman, had approached the HC on December 2 to seek permission for medical termination of her pregnancy at 33 weeks, soon after she was informed about cerebral abnormalities in the foetus. While presenting the case, she argued that the 24-week limit was not applicable “since the foetus borne by the petitioner [woman] carries substantial cerebral abnormalities”.

The petitioner said that no abnormalities had been detected till the 16th week of her pregnancy and she was only informed about the abnormality on November 12.

Soon after, the HC created a single-judge bench of Justice Prathiba Singh.

Justice Singh then directed LNJP hospital to carry out a medical examination of the woman and submit a report to the court.

Later this week, Justice Singh permitted the woman to undergo medical termination of pregnancy immediately at an approved medical facility or hospital of her choice.

Moreover, after interacting with the woman, Justice Singh said said she was convinced the woman weighed the risks involved and took a well-informed decision.

In the 33-page order, the court, citing the medical board’s opinion, said that the child would require surgery and publicly available material indicates that these conditions constitute a rare disorder present in a very small percentage of pregnancies.

While calling the right of a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy the subject matter of debate across the world, the court said that India is among the countries that recognises this choice, and has even expanded the right by amending laws to allow abortions at an advanced stage.

In September this year, the Supreme Court had ruled that the marital status of a woman cannot be grounds to deprive her of the right to abort an unwanted pregnancy, adding that single and unmarried women have the right to abort under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act till 24 weeks of pregnancy.

“This right gives the woman the ultimate choice as to whether she wants to give birth to the child she has conceived,” the court said.

Vani Subramanyam, a women’s rights activist working with Saheli, a women’s rights advocacy group, said that in a world where women are not allowed to make the decisions for most things, the court asserting that right to abortion is a decision that should rest with women "sends a positive message.” 

Adsa Fatima, a women’s rights activist working with Sama, another women’s rights advocacy group, said that it is a welcome decision as the court took into factor the will of the pregnant woman. 

“It sets a precedence for looking into the case and looking at the condition of the petitioner and what they wish to do with the pregnancy. Ideally, this should be between the doctor and the patient but given the law of the country, this case went beyond 24 weeks,” she said, adding that courts have an important role to play. 

“Progressive interpretation of the judgment without prejudice is the most important point as the pregnant women of the country can know that in such situations they can easily approach the court and that they will be hear,” she added.

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