In a rare instance, the Bombay high court (HC) on Tuesday allowed a 23-year-old unmarried woman from Ratnagiri to medically terminate her 23-week pregnancy that resulted out of a consensual relationship which has since ended.
“We are of the view that if the petitioner is compelled to continue with her pregnancy, the same will involve a risk of grave physical and mental injury to her,” said the division bench of justice SJ Kathwalla and justice Surendea Tavade while hearing the woman’s petition.
The woman had moved the court contending that it would be extremely difficult for her to carry the pregnancy to full-term because of the stigma of being an unwed mother. She apprehended that she will not be able to handle the child as an unmarried single parent and it will be difficult for her to maintain the child without any financial and mental support.
Her counsel advocate Harshad Bhadbhade pointed out that it will not be possible for her to get married in future because of the social stigma and added that she was not mentally ready to be a mother yet. The counsel further said giving birth to the child under these circumstances will cause grave mental agony to her. He submitted that she has already suffered immense mental and physical anguish due to the unwanted pregnancy and therefore it was extremely necessary to protect her health by allowing termination of the unwanted pregnancy.
Advocate Bhadbhade also pointed out that the social atmosphere in her district was such that the lives of both the 23-year-old and the child would become miserable.
Another bench had, on May 30, referred the petitioner to a medical board to be constituted by the civil surgeon of Ratnagiri district to give an opinion as envisaged under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
Section 3 of the MTP Act allows medical termination of pregnancy with a gestation of 12 to 20 weeks, only if at least two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith, that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the woman or a risk of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
Explanation to the section clarifies that where the pregnancy is alleged to have been caused by rape or it occurs as a result of the failure of any family planning device or method, the anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman and permits MTP in these two additional categories.
The medical board, however, recommended medical termination of the Ratnagiri resident’s unwanted pregnancy.
“Being an unmarried single working woman, continuation of pregnancy would lead to grave injury to the petitioner’s mental health. Under the MTPA Act, 1971 Section 3, MTP can be done,” said the board’s report. Based on this, the high court allowed the woman to get her pregnancy medically terminated at a medical facility of her choice.
The court also clarified that in case the child born is alive and the petitioner is not willing to or is not in a position to take the responsibility of the child, the state and its agencies will have to assume full responsibility for such child.