A woman who was 26 weeks pregnant approached the Supreme Court of India, seeking permission to terminate her pregnancy. She claimed that she did not want to have the baby, as she was suffering from post-partum depression and other health issues. She also said that she did not know of her pregnancy until late, as she was breastfeeding, which can temporarily prevent pregnancies.
However, the Court denied her request, after receiving a medical report that said the foetus was viable and had a heartbeat, and that the pregnancy was not posing an immediate danger to the woman or the foetus’s life. The Court said that it could not allow the termination of a healthy foetus, unless there was a substantial risk of physical or mental abnormalities.
Legal and ethical debate on abortion in India
The case has sparked a debate on the legal and ethical aspects of abortion in India. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, allows abortion up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, with the consent of the woman and the approval of one or two doctors, depending on the gestation period. Beyond 20 weeks, abortion is permitted only if there is a grave risk to the life or health of the woman or the foetus.
However, many women face difficulties in accessing safe and legal abortion services in India, due to various reasons such as lack of awareness, stigma, social pressure, legal barriers, and inadequate facilities. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute and the International Institute for Population Sciences, an estimated 15.6 million abortions were performed in India in 2015, of which only 3.4 million were done at health facilities. The rest were done outside the formal health system, using methods that may be unsafe or ineffective.
Women’s right over their body and reproductive choices
The Supreme Court’s verdict has also raised questions about the extent of women’s right over their body and their reproductive choices. In a landmark ruling in 2020, in a case known as X vs NCT, the Supreme Court had said that it is the woman alone who has the right over her body and is the ultimate decision-maker. The Court had also said that the right to reproductive autonomy is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to life and personal liberty.
However, some experts argue that this right is not absolute, and has to be balanced with other rights and interests, such as the right to life of the foetus, the rights of the husband or partner, and the social and moral values of the society. They also point out that there are medical and ethical challenges involved in terminating a late-term pregnancy, especially when the foetus is viable and healthy.