Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SC allows Mumbai woman to terminate 24-week pregnancy due to life risk

An ultrasound scan had revealed that the foetus had a serious defect

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed a 22-year-old woman from Dombivali to abort her 24-week foetus on medical grounds. The court had ordered a panel of doctors at the civic-run KEM Hospital to re-examine the case and submit a report after the woman moved the court last week.

Panel reaches consensus
An ultrasound scan had revealed that the foetus had anencephaly, a serious birth defect in which parts of the brain and skull remain undeveloped. The panel of seven doctors came to the conclusion that abortion was advisable. The Supreme Court has ordered that the procedure be carried out in KEM Hospital.

“It was a tough phase for us. I hope no other couple has to go through such trauma,” said Santosh Pal, the woman’s husband. “She has not been eating well since she learnt about the baby’s illness.” Mr. Pal, who works as a typist, will admit his wife to the hospital on Tuesday, where labour will be induced through medication for abortion.

Two doctors in Dombivali had diagnosed the woman with fetal anomaly. However, the current abortion law allows termination of pregnancy only up to 20 weeks. Then Mr. Pal’s brother-in-law, a doctor, suggested that the couple visit gynaecologist Dr. Sangeeta Pikale in Mahim.

“Had it not been for Dr. Pikale, we would not have known which way to go. She directed us throughout,” said Mr. Pal.

‘Need for guidelines’
As a precedent, Dr. Pikale used a case where a rape victim with an anomalous foetus was allowed to terminate her pregnancy last year. Dr. Pikale said, “But all such patients are not going to reach me always. There has to be a process in place so that such cases do not have to be directed to the court every time.” She said broad policy guidelines needed be drawn soon.

Doctors say pregnancy up to 12 weeks is terminated though a procedure carried out under anaesthesia while pregnancy up to seven weeks is terminated under medication. “The procedure itself is traumatising. The court proceedings only add to the patient’s trauma,” said gynaecologist Dr. Nikhil Datar, who gave an expert opinion in the petition.

“I am happy that the patient has got justice. But I am now concerned about at least three other such women who have sought my help. Why do they have to keep going to the court every time? I hope that this petition brings some guidelines in place.”

‘Pleased with verdict’
Medical activists have been pushing for reforms. Several amendments drafted in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Bill are yet to be passed. “But we are pleased with the order. The abortion rights of women are slowly getting some attention,” said advocate Colin Gonsalves of the Human Rights Law Network, who fought the woman’s case.

“Unsafe abortions account for 15 per cent of the total maternal mortality rate. Just because our law is obsolete, patients often land up in illegal places where unqualified persons carry out abortions.”

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