For second time in a month, Supreme Court allows abortion of 24-week-old underdeveloped foetus

Navi Mumbai woman, who has crossed 20-week abortion deadline, had approached Supreme Court on February 2 after she got to know that her foetus has serious growth anomaly


In yet another case, the Supreme Court (SC) has permitted Mumbai woman, carrying 24 weeks old foetus with bilateral renal agenesis (complete absence of kidneys in the foetus), to undergo abortion.

The decision was taken after KEM Hospital’s report stated the foetus had no kidneys and its independent survival after birth looked difficult; also, continuation of pregnancy would put mother’s life in danger.

The Navi Mumbai resident had crossed the 20 weeks deadline for abortion when she got to know about growth anomaly in the foetus. She had approached the Apex Court on February 2 seeking permission for medical termination of her pregnancy. On SC’s instructions, a team of doctors at Mumbai’s KEM Hospital examined the woman on February 4.

In its medical report submitted to SC, hospital said the foetus has various anomalies, including shrunken lungs and no kidneys. It also said continuing with pregnancy would endanger mother’s life.

In India, Section 3 of Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, does not allow abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“I am glad that she received SC’s nod for termination of pregnancy today (February 7). But, at the same time, I am extremely pained with absurdity of taking the same cause repeatedly to the highest court of law, which eats into precious time of already overburdened judiciary as well as public hospitals. Policy-makers need to pay attention to this issue and make the law lenient,” said Dr Nikhil Datar, Medical Director and Gynaecologist at CloudNine Hospital, under whose guidance the woman had filed the petition.

This is the third case in last one year and second in last one month where the woman had crossed 20 week deadline and approached SC to seek permission to abort foetus with serious developmental defect which is incompatible to life.

“It is high time that the 20-week MTP deadline is extended to 24 weeks in India. We have observed that it is generally underprivileged women who are bearing the brunt of 20-week deadline. These women do not register with any hospital before seven months. Many hide their pregnancy till they complete first trimester,” said Dr Aparna Hegde, Uro-Gynaecologist and Founder of NGO Armman.

In its recommendation to the Union Health Ministry, the National Commission of Women (NCW) said abortions till 24 weeks of pregnancy should be allowed. After which, in 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare Department proposed amendment to present MTP Act. The proposed Act, called The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2014, proposes to increase abortion limit from present 20 weeks to 24 weeks.

“Pregnancy is an extremely personal thing. No couple wants to make it a public affair by approaching court. But, they are forced to do so due to the circumstances,” added Datar, who presently has two more cases wherein the woman has passed 20-week deadline and the foetus has severe developmental defect.

Dr Sangeeta Pikale, Gynaecologist, said there should be certain policy guidelines in form of committees which can sanction abortion in special cases.

“We strongly feel that SC should consider as well as suggest certain policy guidelines regarding regional support in form of committees to sanction abortion in such cases. Also, it must create certain guidelines on hospitals to be approached in such a case,” said Pikale.