Need to amend abortion law, say experts

August 4th, 2008 - 10:56 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 4 (IANS) Terming as “irrational and unfortunate” a Mumbai court’s rejection of a young couple’s plea to allow abortion of their 25-week unborn child detected with cardiac complications, members of the civil society and the legal community Monday reiterated their demand for changes in the abortion law. “There is an urgent need to amend the law as in other Western countries abortion is allowed even a day before the delivery in special circumstances like when the couple knows that the child may be born with severe disability,” said Puneet Bedi, consultant in foetal medicine at Apollo Hospital.

He added that amendment of the law should be to the extent that it cannot be misused to abort the foetus on the basis of sex.

In India, abortion is illegal. However, it is permitted under law only in special circumstances, including when the woman is raped, when the child suffers from severe disability and failure of contraceptive devices.

“There are special circumstances provided under law when a woman can go in for an abortion - like when a doctor says that having a child would prove a risk to the life of the woman, cause her grave mental or physical injury or that the child may be born with severe disabilities,” added Bedi.

“It’s the need of the hour that we should legalise abortion as otherwise this will invite illegal means, which is more dangerous for our society,” said noted lawyer Pinki Anand.

She said that if the couple is satisfied with the medical opinion raising questions on the state of the foetus, then they have the right to abort thr foetus as it is “their choice as they are the only ones who will have to look after the child after it is born”.

“It is irrational and unfortunate that a couple who has sought legal help from the judiciary didn’t get justice. We cannot push a mother to have an abnormal child as it is her responsibility to take care of the child at the end of the day,” said Ranjana Kumari, director of Centre for Social Research.

A division bench of the Bombay High Court, consisting of Justice P.B. Mujumdar and Justice A.A. Sayyad, gave the ruling 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.

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 Sections 3 and 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1972. Section 5 allows a woman to terminate her foetus if it poses a health risk to her, but remains silent on the issue of the period of the pregnancy.

“If there is a medical opinion with regard to the abortion of the foetus, then even the judiciary should rely upon it and give its nod for abortion as then it will not be illegal,” said Anand.

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 the abortion law since Niketa’s pregnancy is well beyond the legal limit for abortion.

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

They moved the high court in mid-July.

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