New Delhi: The Supreme Court, on Tuesday, refused to grant permission to a 37-year-old woman of Maharashtra to terminate her 23-week-old foetus, diagnosed to suffer from Down syndrome, taking note of a report of the medical board that abortion is not advisable.
A bench of Justices S.A. Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao perused the report of a panel of doctors from Mumbai’s KEM Hospital that baby had chances of survival and, therefore, abortion should not be perfo-rmed. Solicitor general Ranjit Kumar for the Centre also opposed the abortion. The woman from Alibaug sought court’s permission for abortion because the law does not allow a woman to abort if her pregnancy crosses 20 weeks.
“As per a report of the medical board there is no physical risk to the mother to continue with the pregnancy. Everybody knows that children with Down Syndrome are undoubtedly less intelligent, but they are fine people,” the bench said.
The bench said that as per the report, the foetus is “likely to have mental and physical challenges”, but the advice of the doctors does not warrant termination of pregnancy. “With this report, we don’t think we are going to allow the termination of pregnancy. We have a life in our hands. In these circumstances, as per the present advice, it is not possible to grant permission to terminate the pregnancy,” the bench said.
Termination of pregnancy is allowed in extreme cases if continuation is likely to cause grave injury to the woman’s health and/or increase or induce a risk of abnormalities in the child.
The woman’s counsel Colin Gonsalves said if a foetus is detected with Down’s Syndrome before the 20-week ceiling doctors advise abortion. The senior advocate said no other country in the world had restrictions like the one under the Indian law. Counsel said that Down syndrome could cause physical and mental retardation. A child would not have a normal and healthy life, he said and added that internationally, a woman can seek an abortion of an abnormal foetus. However, each country has its own limit, which in most cases is more than 20 weeks. Switzerland, Great Britain and the Netherlands are the only countries to not have such a ceiling.
This is the third such case in which pregnant women have approached the top court for permission to abort defective or under-developed foetus beyond the legally permissible 20-week limit.