The Kerala High Court has dismissed a couple’s plea to abort a 35-week-old foetus. The couple had requested the abortion for medical reasons because the foetus has serious developmental brain anomalies.
Which Indian law regulates abortions?
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, provides for the termination of certain pregnancies by authorised doctors with the necessary medical qualifications and experience.
Consent for an abortion
For conducting any abortion, it is first necessary that the pregnant woman agrees to abort the child and gives her permission to discontinue the pregnancy. If the pregnant woman is below eighteen years, the written consent of her guardian is necessary for conducting the abortion.
Only an authorised doctor who is a registered medical practitioner, is legally allowed to terminate a pregnancy. Violating this is an offence punishable with imprisonment for two to seven years.
Conditions for a legal adoption
An abortion is only allowed if an authorised doctor in good faith believes that continuing the pregnancy will be a risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or a serious injury to her physical/mental health. A pregnancy is considered to be a serious injury to mental health when it is caused by rape, or if it is an unwanted pregnancy.
Abortion is also allowed if the doctor thinks that there is a substantial risk that if the child is born, it will be seriously handicapped because of physical/mental abnormalities.
Place for conducting an abortion
An abortion should only be conducted in a government hospital, or a government-approved centre for conducting abortions.
Anyone who terminates a pregnancy in an unauthorised place can be punished with imprisonment for two to seven years.
At what stage is abortion legally permitted?
Under Section 3 of the Act, an abortion is legally permitted only if the woman is less than twenty weeks pregnant. However, an abortion even after twenty weeks is allowed if an authorised doctor in good faith believes that the termination of pregnancy is immediately necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.
Earlier this year, the Punjab and Haryana High Court decided to look into the issue of abortion after twenty weeks of pregnancy. The High Court said that the Act restricts the termination of pregnancy only upto twenty weeks. However, no remedy is given if any deformity/disease or any problem happens to the fetus after twenty weeks. In such a situation, if a complication develops after twenty weeks, the pregnant woman is bound to lose her life, unless she is already at the hospital and the doctor immediately conducts an abortion to save the woman’s life.