Feb 26, 2022

Special medical boards for abortion in rape cases: The need of the hour

Trigger Warning: This post contains information on physical violence and sexual violence which some readers may find disturbing.


The Supreme Court has asked for the Government’s response on setting up special medical boards in all districts to handle abortions for rape survivors. The Court said that a pregnant survivor should know her legal rights and the options available to her. 


How can special medical boards to look at such cases help?

The law says that a pregnant woman can get an abortion, with her doctor’s or the court’s permission, if her pregnancy is a result of rape. 


Where the pregnancy is a result of rape and the foetus is under 20 weeks, an abortion can be performed legally, as the doctor has a legal duty to assume that the pregnancy gravely affects the woman’s mental health.


After 20 weeks, the woman has to go to court to request for an abortion, which the court can permit, at its discretion. Special medical boards to examine such cases would help make this process fairer and faster.


What if the survivor is a minor?

If the woman who needs an abortion is a minor, i.e. a person below 18 years of age, then her guardian’s consent is necessary to get the abortion. The doctor must get consent from the guardian before conducting the abortion on a minor. 


If the doctor suspects that the pregnancy is a result of child sexual abuse, the doctor has a duty to report it to the police, even though the doctor may know about it through discharge of their professional duties or within a confidential relationship.


Can the survivor be forced to abort the child?

No. The law can punish anyone who forces a pregnant woman to have an abortion with jail time of up to 10 years and/or a fine.


Further, if a doctor causes the death of a pregnant woman through an illegal abortion procedure where the woman has not consented to the procedure, the punishment for the doctor is jail time between 10 years and life imprisonment, along with a fine.


Where can I get more information?

If you have questions about the medical process, you can call the National Reproductive Health Helpline set up by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to answer any queries regarding abortions and to understand where to get abortions. 


Call 1800116555 anytime between 9 am to 11 pm (Monday to Saturday). This number is a toll-free number which offers only guidance to those who are considering abortion. 


You should give the following details when calling the helpline number:

  • Age
  • Location
  • Health status
  • Duration of the pregnancy.