Supreme Court upholds fetal rights, denies plea for abortion beyond permissible limit

The bench, comprising Justices B R Gavai, S V N Bhatti, and Sandeep Mehta, passed the order while hearing the woman’s challenge against the Delhi High Court’s May 3 order, which had previously denied her request for termination.

The Supreme Court has refused to entertain a plea from a 20-year-old woman seeking termination of her over 27-week pregnancy. The apex court’s decision upholds the fetal right to life, citing the existing statutory provisions that govern abortion in India. The bench, comprising Justices B R Gavai, S V N Bhatti, and Sandeep Mehta, passed the order while hearing the woman’s challenge against the Delhi High Court’s May 3 order, which had previously denied her request for termination.

The court’s stance aligns with its previous rulings that have sought to strike a delicate balance between a woman’s reproductive rights and the protection of fetal life. Over the years, the Supreme Court has delivered several significant judgments related to abortion rights in India, each one carefully weighing the unique circumstances and potential consequences for all parties involved.

One such case dates back to 2022 when the court allowed the termination of a 24-week pregnancy involving a minor who had been sexually assaulted. In this instance, the court took into consideration the immense trauma and mental anguish that the minor had endured, recognizing the profound psychological impact of carrying the pregnancy to term. The decision was hailed as a compassionate approach, prioritizing the mental and physical well-being of the survivor.

Similarly, in 2021, the Supreme Court permitted a 14-year-old rape survivor to undergo an abortion at 24 weeks, once again highlighting the mental and physical toll that such a traumatic experience can have on a child. The court’s ruling acknowledged the gravity of the situation and the potential long-term consequences for the minor’s overall health and well-being.

Another case from 2020 saw the court allowing termination of a 33-week pregnancy due to severe fetal abnormalities. In this instance, the court took into account the mental and physical strain on the mother, recognizing the emotional and practical challenges associated with caring for a child with significant disabilities.

While these judgments have been lauded for their progressive approach and sensitivity to the complex issues surrounding abortion, the court’s recent ruling in the case of the 20-year-old woman has reignited the discourse surrounding a woman’s reproductive rights and the fetal right to life.

The debate surrounding abortion rights in India is a complex one, involving ethical, legal, and medical considerations. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, of 1971, serves as the guiding legislation, permitting abortion up to 20 weeks. However, it also allows for exceptions in cases of substantial fetal abnormalities or risk to the mother’s life, recognizing that there may be extenuating circumstances that warrant termination beyond the prescribed limit.

Proponents of women’s rights argue that denying abortion access infringes upon a woman’s bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. They emphasize the importance of considering the mental and physical well-being of the mother, as well as the potential socio-economic implications of an unwanted pregnancy. Additionally, they contend that forcing a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term can have severe psychological consequences and potentially jeopardize her future prospects.

On the other hand, advocates of fetal rights maintain that the unborn child has a fundamental right to life, and termination should be strictly regulated to protect this right. They contend that the fetus’s potential for life should be given due consideration, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy when the fetus is more developed and potentially viable outside the womb.

As the legal and ethical landscape surrounding abortion continues to evolve, the Supreme Court’s rulings play a crucial role in navigating this complex issue. Each case is evaluated on its merits, taking into account the specific circumstances and the potential consequences for all parties involved. The court’s recent ruling, while upholding fetal rights, does not diminish the importance of considering a woman’s reproductive rights and overall well-being.

Moving forward, it is essential for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and society as a whole to engage in open and constructive dialogue on this sensitive issue. Striking the right balance between protecting fetal life and respecting a woman’s autonomy over her body requires a nuanced approach that takes into account the unique circumstances of each case, as well as the broader societal implications.