Abortion beyond 20 weeks - When and Why is it necessary?

Abortion beyond 20 weeks - When and Why is it necessary?

Abortion beyond 20 weeks - When and Why is it necessary?

Two cases in India show the stark contrast in the judgments awarded to pregnant women. In 2017 January, Supreme Court allowed a 22 year old woman who was 24-week pregnant to abort the pregnancy as the fetus would not survive and may pose a danger to the life of the mother. But immediately in March 2017, the Supreme Court denied abortion to a 26-week pregnant woman whose child was detected with Down’s syndrome which permanently affects the mental and physical health of the child. So what premises did the Court use to decide once in favor and once against the pregnant woman?

Thought process behind the rulings -
  • As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 (MTPA), the allowed limit to terminate a pregnancy is 20 weeks. Only in cases, where the life of mother or child is in danger, this limit can be extended after considering the report of a medical board.
  • The Supreme Court gave both the rulings based on these rules. In the first case, the abortion was allowed as the mother was in danger. In the second case the Court denied the abortion citing that the child would have less intelligence, but people with Down’s syndrome are fine people.
  • So, it is clearly seen that only if the life of mother or the child faces danger, termination of pregnancy is allowed.
Should the Courts allow abortion beyond 20 weeks?
  • The recent verdict raises a very important question regarding right of a woman over her body.The Supreme Court and fundamentally the medical community and the legislature should raise this ceiling of 20 weeks.
  • Every woman has the right to decide whether she is mentally and physically capable to raise a child having major birth defects like Down’s syndrome or incurable cardiac problems.
  • Many a times such diseases are not detected earlier. Detecting these disease later becomes either too late or the window of abortion is very narrow as the maximum time limit of abortion is just 20 weeks.
  • Many a time’s doctors are not sure about their diagnosis till 20 weeks. They can come to some solid conclusion by around 26 weeks. So it is very important to raise the pregnancy termination time limit to at least 26 weeks.
  • The Court while denying right to abort a fetus having Down’s syndrome empathized with the baby that will born, saying that, “It is sad that the child may suffer from physical and mental challenges and it’s unfortunate for the mother.” The Courts also allow abortion for a rape victim as they empathize with her situation.
In the same way, the Court must empathize with the plight of the mother who would be raising the child with these defects. Society’s mentality is not supportive enough for such children and their parents.

  • Also, when babies are born with major defects, their upbringing and health costs increase manifold. The parents may not be able to bear these costs. The courts and law must consider these situations.
  • Indian society is mired with a greater ill that is of being unaware of the problems a fetus or new born babies may face. This unawareness makes it difficult to detect the problems in the limited time of 20 weeks.
  • Also, the infrastructure in India is very inadequate. As per some statistics there are 26 million pregnant women in India and just 15000 radiologists. Screening these mothers within such a short time of 20 weeks is a humungous task. It would be very beneficial to increase the limit of termination of pregnancy to 26 weeks.
Should the limit be universally increased?
  • It would not be wise to give this limit to all the pregnant women.
  • This extension of beyond 20 weeks should be given in special cases when the situation demands.
  • Even today special cases are considered beyond 20 weeks, but what is needed is to expand the scope of these special cases.
  • Along with danger to life of the mother and the fetus, laws must consider the capacity and ability of a mother to raise a child who might have special needs or might be born with major defects.
  • Also, the list of defects must be widened. Though people with Down’s syndrome are fine people, they may face ridicule and hardships due to their low intelligence.
  • So a choice must be given to the mother in special cases beyond 20 weeks.

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