The Bombay High Court has permitted an 18-year-old unmarried woman to medically terminate her 26-week pregnancy, even though the foetus was deemed healthy and the condition posed no risk to her physical or mental health.
In an order passed on Wednesday, a bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar permitted the petitioner to medically terminate her pregnancy, after holding that in deciding the impact of the pregnancy on the woman’s mental health, courts must also take into account her actual foreseeable environment.
Following the High Court’s previous directions, a panel of doctors at the state-run JJ Hospital examined the woman, who had sought permission for an abortion, citing that she was unmarried and not in a position to carry the foetus to full term.
Doctors informed the court that the foetus did not have any medical anomalies, and further said that while the woman had a mild case of depression, if she sought treatment for it, the pregnancy will not pose any risks to her physical or mental health.
The current Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act does not permit termination of a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks unless it poses health risks for the foetus and the mother.
Appellate courts, including the Bombay High Court, however, have previously batted for women’s mental health on several occasions and permitted termination of a pregnancy beyond 20 weeks if the condition posed any risk to their mental health, and if a medical panel so advises.
An amendment to the Act, which is yet to be implemented, extends the time frame to 24 weeks.
In the present case, the High Court noted that the woman was just 18 years old and had three other unmarried siblings. Her mother sold vegetables near their house and her father was an autorickshaw driver.
The bench said that the panel of doctors had failed to take into consideration her socio-economic condition and the impact the pregnancy could have on her mental health in the future.
“In deciding whether continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the health of the pregnant woman, account may be taken of the pregnant woman’s actual or reasonably foreseeable environment,” the court said.
“In view of the facts and circumstances as narrated above, compelling the petitioner, a girl of tender age, to have an unwanted child may lead to disastrous consequences for the rest of her life not only for the petitioner but for the entire family. Unfortunately, the above factors were not taken into consideration by the medical board while submitting its report,” it said.
The court permitted the woman to undergo the termination procedure at JJ Hospital in the city.