Court rejects plea to abort foetus with heart defects (Lead)

August 4th, 2008 - 7:53 pm ICT by IANS  

Mumbai, Aug 4 (IANS) The Bombay High Court Monday rejected a plea by a Mumbai couple seeking to abort their 25-week unborn child who was found to have congenital heart defects - a case that had generated intense debate over ethical implications of the law on abortion. The much-awaited ruling by a division bench consisting of Justice P.B. Mujumdar and Justice A.A. Sayyad came after the state-run J.J. Hospital submitted a second medical report to the court on whether the petitioners - Niketa and Haresh Mehta - could medically terminate the foetus. The mother entered the 26th week of her pregnancy Monday.

Last Friday, the judges, while ordering the second medical report, directed a team of doctors to give its clear, confirmed opinion, which would enable the court take a decision in the matter. The second report was submitted before the court Monday.

In the first report submitted last week, the medical team said there was a “fair chance” the child would suffer abnormalities after birth, leading to severe physical handicaps.

Following this unclear medical opinion, the high court sought a second report with more clarity on the issue.

In its second report, the medical team said there was a “least chance” that the child would suffer abnormalities after birth, leading to severe physical handicaps.

In their petition, Niketa and her stockbroker husband Haresh Mehta contended that since their unborn child faced cardiac complications, the court should permit them to medically terminate the pregnancy.

They challenged the Sections 3 and 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1972. Their advocate, Amit Karkhanis contended that as per Section 3, a woman could abort her foetus if it was defective, but within 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Section 5 allows a woman to terminate her foetus if it posed a health risk to the mother, but remains silent on the issue of the period of the pregnancy.

Karkhanis argued that the time period given by the law was “arbitrary” but the court rejected his contentions.

The middle-class couple from Bhayander, a suburb in Thane, said in their petition that as per the doctors’ opinion, the unborn child’s heart had a blockage that would require a permanent pacemaker and the baby’s right and left ventricles were also interchanged.

The case posed an unprecedented direct challenge to this aspect of the law since Niketa’s pregnancy was well beyond the legal limit for abortion.

The Mehtas felt that instead of making their unborn child suffer with a congenital heart problem all its life, it would be better to abort it, but were prevented by the law.

Haresh and Niketa, aged 31, had a love marriage and were eagerly anticipating the new arrival in the family.

Later, they learnt that the unborn child suffers from certain congenital heart defects. They deliberated over it at length, sought medical opinion from different quarters and decided to abort it.

When legal complications hampered their decision, they moved the high court in mid-July.

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