The Supreme Court today (16.10.2023) denied a married woman’s request to terminate her third pregnancy, which had reached the 26-week mark, on the grounds that she was suffering from postpartum psychosis following her last delivery in September 2022. A bench consisting of CJI DY Chandrachud, Justice JB Pardiwala, and Justice Manoj Misra issued the order.
Observing that the pregnancy had reached 24 weeks, the court stated that allowing the petitioner to continue with the abortion would contravene Sections 3 and 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.
The court stated in its judgement that after reporting that the baby was healthy and viable, AIIMS requested clarity from the Court on whether they might proceed to stop the foetus’ heart for termination of the pregnancy. “This court doesn’t agree to issuing such a directive.” “The petitioner is unwilling to do the same,” stated the judge.
The Court further said that there is no urgent danger to the mother and that there is no evidence of foetal abnormalities. According to the MTP Act, these are the only two exceptions to terminating a pregnancy beyond 24 weeks.
The bench stressed that the State would bear the expense of all medical procedures in the case, and the petitioner would have the last choice on whether she chose to keep the kid after birth or put it up for adoption.
The petitioner, a married lady with two children, claimed that she was suffering from post-partum psychosis and would be unable to raise a third child emotionally, financially, or physically.
During the last hearing, the judge questioned the validity of the petitioner’s postpartum psychosis prescription. The judge also authorised AIIMS to conduct an independent examination of the petitioner’s mental and physical state. It had also instructed the AIIMS medical board to investigate if the petitioner’s medications had any effect on the foetus.
The court received the AIIMS report today, which confirmed that the petitioner was really suffering from postpartum psychosis. According to the study, she was taking drugs that had no negative effects on the kid. AIIMS also recommended a different treatment plan so that the foetus was not endangered. It was also claimed that no abnormalities in the foetus were discovered.
The court also refused to entertain an intervention in the proceedings challenging the top limit for medical termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks. The court noted that the challenge to the existing statute would be handled in a separate case, while the current petition would be handled solely between the petitioner and the state.
Earlier, the bench voiced severe reservations about granting her request, adding that authorising abortion at this point, when the medical report said that the unborn had a strong chance of survival, might amount to foeticide. The case was heard by the three-judge bench after a special court of Justice Hima Kohli and Justice BV Nagarathna issued a divided ruling.
Section 5 of the MTP Act Interpretation of ‘Life’
Advocate Amit Mishra argued on behalf of the petitioner that the term ‘life’ under Section 5 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act required a broad and purposeful meaning. Section 5 states that a pregnancy can be aborted even if it has lasted longer than 24 weeks if “the termination of such pregnancy is immediately necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life.” In response to this argument, the CJI stated that interpreting ‘life’ under Section 5 in the same way as ‘life’ under Article 21 would contradict the purpose of Section 3 of the MTP Act. According to the CJI-
The case was heard by a three-judge panel after a two-judge panel rendered a divided decision. Last week, on October 9, a two-judge bench comprised of Justices Hima Kohli and BV Nagarathna granted the woman’s request to abort her pregnancy. The next day, however, the Union Government filed a move to revoke the decision, citing an email from an AIIMS doctor stating that the unborn was alive and that a directive expressly authorising the stoppage of the embryonic heart was required. Justice Hima Kohli granted the recall application, stating that her “judicial conscience” did not allow her to authorise abortion.
Justice Nagarathna, on the other hand, held that the woman’s liberty was fundamental and that she could not be compelled to bear the pregnancy at the risk of severe bodily and emotional stress. After the split, the case was sent to a bigger bench.