Court Says Woman Can Abort Her 26-Week-Old Disabled Baby, Says Birth Would Hurt Her Mental Health

International   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Aug 9, 2017   |   4:57PM   |   New Delhi, India

A woman whose unborn baby has a fatal condition will be allowed to abort the baby after the India Supreme Court granted her petition for a late-term abortion this week.

The woman, whose name is not included in reports, is 26 weeks pregnant with her unborn child, according to the Indian Express. She lives in the Mumbai area.

Abortions are illegal after 20 weeks of pregnancy in India. However, women increasingly have been petitioning the high court for permission to abort their late-term unborn babies because of fetal abnormalities. Some rape victims also have made requests to the high court.

In the latest case, a panel of doctors at Sir JJ Hospital who examined the woman and her unborn baby said the baby does not have a skull and probably will not survive, according to the report. The doctors also said the woman was experiencing “immense mental agony.”

Based on the panel’s recommendation, the high court ruled, “We consider it appropriate in the interest of justice and particularly, to permit the petitioner (woman) to undergo medical termination of her pregnancy under the provisions of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.”

“The condition of the foetus is not compatible with life. The medical evidence clearly suggests that there is no point in allowing the pregnancy to run its full course since the foetus would not be able to survive outside the uterus without a skull,” the court continued.

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The court has received an increasing number of petitions for late-term abortions in the past few years. Because of their frequency, the Supreme Court of India asked the government in July to consider setting up a permanent medical board to examine late-term abortion petitions, according to the Herald. Currently, the courts set up temporary medical boards to examine individual cases.

Typically, the Indian high court’s decisions about late-term abortion petitions have been based on the physical health of the mother and/or her unborn child.

In February, for example, the high court rejected another woman’s request for a late-term abortion because her unborn baby has Down syndrome. The Free Press Journal reports the court said the woman’s life was not at risk and her baby should not be aborted simply because of the genetic disorder. The woman was 26 weeks pregnant at the time.

“It is sad that the child may suffer from physical and mental challenges and it’s unfortunate for the mother but we can’t allow an abortion…We have a life in our hands,” the court said in that case.

However, the court has given permission for other women to abort their late-term unborn babies in cases of fatal fetal anomalies.

The high court also sometimes grants exceptions in cases involving rape. In May, it gave a 10-year-old rape victim permission to have her unborn baby aborted. Dr. Ashok Chauhan, a panelist in the case, described the situation as “borderline” because the girl was about 20 weeks pregnant, the legal limit. The panel also mentioned concerns about the young girl’s physical and mental health.

In 2015, the India Supreme Court also gave an exception to a 14-year-old rape victim who was past 20 weeks pregnant. At the time, the BBC reported a team of doctors decided the girl was not physically or emotionally fit to have a baby.

However, the court refused to give another 10-year-old rape victim permission to abort her late-term unborn baby this year, saying an abortion would not be good for the mother or the unborn baby.

At 20 weeks, an unborn baby already is fully formed and close to the point of viability (about 23 weeks). Late-term abortions also are risky and can be deadly for the mother.