INDIA – Late abortion High Court ruling based on women’s autonomy and rights

Abortions in India are permitted only up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, increasing from 20 weeks for both married women and later single women due to a high number of cases being taken to the courts for a judgment. In a recent landmark ruling, Justice Prathiba M Singh (photo above) in the High Court in Delhi, allowed a woman to have an abortion in the 33rd week due to serious fetal abnormalities.

In most cases, if a woman is more than 20 weeks pregnant, the court usually relies on the recommendation of a medical board to decide whether an abortion should be granted though this often delays the judgment. But critics say this undermines the woman’s autonomy, which is why the 20 week limit was increased to 24.

Four ultrasound scans in this case had revealed that the fetus showed evidence of cerebral abnormality. The medical board told the court that the fetus was “compatible with life”, however, and could be “managed surgically following delivery”. They also noted that the degree of potential disability in the baby post-delivery could not be predicted and recommended that the woman be denied an abortion. In the end, however, the court took into consideration the woman’s mental health and personal choice and decided to permit the termination. “The ultimate decision in such cases ought to recognise the choice of the mother,” said Justice Singh on 6 December.

Additionally, in September of this year the Supreme Court of India ruled that the term “woman” was not limited to cis-women, but applicable to all persons who may require access to safe abortions.
The court also ordered that the definition of “rape” be expanded to include marital rape in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

SOURCE: DW, by Nidhi Suresh, 12 December 2022 ; PHOTO: Hon Ms Justice Prathiba M Singh, Delhi Judicial Academy