After a sonography revealed that her unborn baby has serious abnormality and may not survive after birth, a Mumbai woman has moved the Supreme Court (SC) seeking permission for abortion in the 24th week of her pregnancy.
After hearing her petition on Wednesday, the apex court has passed an order directing KEM Hospital, Mumbai, doctors to examine her case.
The 23-year-old woman hails from a low socio-economic background and came to know that the foetus has serious developmental defect called anencephaly – absence of brain – in a routine sonography test done in 23rd week of her pregnancy.
Dr Avinash Supe, Dean of KEM Hospital said a team of doctors will examine her on January 12 and submit report to SC.
“The woman had done her first sonography test when she was six weeks pregnant. After that, she did her next test in 24th week of pregnancy, which revealed the abnormality in foetus. This is her first child,” said Dr Nikhil Datar, Medical Director and Gynaecologist at Cloudnine Hospital.
Traumatised with the fact that her child has serious abnormality, she decided to abort the child.
“She wanted an abortion, but no gynaecologist agreed as the law doesn’t permit abortion beyond 20th week. She was then directed to me,” said Datar.
Earlier, Datar had moved SC in 2008, seeking permission for his Mumbai-based patient Nikita Mehta to abort her unborn baby after crossing 20th week limit. The baby had cardiac abnormality. Again, in July 2016, Datar helped a rape survivor file petition with the SC to abort her unborn child with same abnormality in her 24th week of pregnancy.
“With anencephaly, foetus will be born with life, but once the umbilical cord is cut, independent existence is difficult,” explained Datar.
In India, Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, does not allow abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The National Commission of Women (NCW) had recommended to the Union Health Ministry to allow abortions till 24 weeks of pregnancy. After which, in 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare proposed amendment to the present MTP Act.
The amendment, which will be called The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2014, proposes to increase abortion limit from present 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
As per the draft law, for which the ministry had sought public comments in 2014, decision to allow abortion between 20 and 24 weeks can be taken “in good faith” by a health-care provider if, among other conditions, pregnancy involves substantial risks to mother or child, or if it is “alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape.”
“It is political apathy due to which the proposed amendment to MTP Act has not yet being tabled and passed in the Parliament. This situation is extremely dangerous for the society. It is because the amendment is still on papers that we had to approach Supreme Court,” said Datar.
The gynaecologist said he comes across at least one woman once in three weeks whose foetus shows serious abnormality when she is nearing 20th week deadline for abortion.
“I presently have two women who have passed 20th week of pregnancy and have found their unborn child has serious abnormality. Generally, an anomaly in 18th week of pregnancy may look small and require further investigations. This may take a week or two’s time. In case the tests confirm a serious anomaly, there is a high possibility of woman crossing 20th week deadline. The opportunity to abort such a foetus is closed by the law currently,” explained Datar.
Medical experts in India have been demanding that a few abnormalities should be included as valid reasons for MTP after 20 weeks and empower a woman to take the decision.
Dr Rishma Dhillon-Pai, President-Elect of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India (FOGSI), said, “The period between 20 and 22 weeks gives good opportunity to check for anomalies in foetuses through sonography. Generally, we ask a patient to undergo tests around 18th week to find any if there are any abnormality. In foreign countries, data shows this extension is a boon to a lot of women.”
Dr Nandita Palshetkar, President of Mumbai Obstetric and Gynaecological Society, said, “Extending abortion limit to 24 weeks will solve most medical problems. We tend to think only about women in urban cities, but what about those living in smaller towns, who have probably missed one or two sonography sessions? In some countries a group of doctors decide whether it is medically advisable for women to deliver a child or not.”
Dr Palshetkar emphasised on urgent need to raise awareness among women to undergo antenatal check-ups and sonography during gestation period to detect certain abnormalities like anencephaly earlier.