In a controversial decision, a 10-year-old rape survivor was denied permission to terminate the pregnancy resulting from the rape by the district court in Chandigarh on Tuesday. The child was allegedly raped continuously over a period of time by her maternal uncle. She is the daughter of a government employee father and a domestic worker mother, reported Times of India.
The plea for abortion was rejected after it was confirmed that the minor was 26 weeks pregnant. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971, the legal ceiling for abortions in India is 20 weeks. In more advanced pregnancies, exceptions are made by the courts if the foetus is proved to be genetically unviable or if the pregnancy poses a grave threat to the mother's life.
Since the pelvic bones are not fully developed in girls by the age of 10, as the pregnancy progresses, it could lead to further complications for the little girl.
According to the TOI report, the case has left doctors perplexed and in a quandary, since cases of such young girls getting pregnant are rare, and pregnancies like these are difficult to detect in time for safe abortions. Dr Rashmi Bagga from the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, was quoted as saying that underage pregnancies are tricky because "when a menstrual cycle is missed, it is not noted by underage girls."
The case also presents a unique problem: both abortion and carrying the pregnancy to term are fraught with risks for the minor's life. Since the pelvic bones are not fully developed in girls by the age of 10, as the pregnancy progresses, it could lead to further complications for the little girl. Both, vaginal delivery and a C-section, are dangerous at such a young age.
Even though there is legal precedent of courts ruling in favour of termination of advanced pregnancies in raped minors, individual judgements vary dramatically.
Unfortunately, this is not the first case of its kind. Even though there is legal precedent of courts ruling in favour of termination of advanced pregnancies in raped minors, individual judgements in different parts of the country vary dramatically. In 2015, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgement, ruled in favour of a 14-year-old rape victim, after which her 25-week pregnancy was terminated.
In May this year, another 10-year-old girl from Haryana found herself in a similar situation. Raped by her stepfather, her pregnancy was inconclusively pegged at 18 to 22 weeks when the courts decided to leave the decision of whether it was safe to abort with the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (PGIMS), the hospital she was admitted at. Doctors at PGIMS decided to terminate the pregnancy.
In June, The Bombay High Court refused a Pune resident's plea for his 26-week-pregnant minor daughter, a rape survivor, to abort her foetus.
As the MTP Act stands today, women can terminate a pregnancy with one doctor's medical opinion upto 12 weeks. Between 12 to 20 weeks, the opinion of two doctors is required for an abortion.
Even though the MTP Act seeks to ensure the safety of the girl child by preventing sex-selective abortion, it is a double-edged sword that often claims rape victims as collateral damage. The problem is further exacerbated due to India's slow legal process.
In January this year, a 35-year-old woman from Bihar was denied abortion by a government hospital and the state's high court due to an administrative delay. Despite applying for an abortion at 17 weeks, her paperwork got stuck until she was 26 weeks along, leading to a long legal battle. Eventually, she appealed to the Supreme Court and her plea was rejected in May.
The legally enforceable limit of 20 weeks for abortion has been a hotly debated subject in healthcare and women's rights for years, with multiple calls for amendments to the MTP Act to make abortions more accessible for longer periods to women. As it stands today, women can choose to terminate a pregnancy in consultation with one doctor upto 12 weeks. Between 12 to 20 weeks, the medical opinion of two doctors is required for an abortion.
In 2014, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill was proposed, which sought to raise the limit for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
In 2006, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare initiated consultations to propose changes to the MTP Act. In 2014, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) (Amendment) Bill was proposed, which sought to raise the legal limit for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks, citing major technological breakthroughs in the field and the need to empower women.
In March this year, it was reported that the Bill, based on recommendations from the National Commission of Women, had been submitted to the Cabinet for its approval. However, in a major and shocking setback, in May, the Prime Minister's Office returned the draft to the health ministry asked it to strengthen the existing MTP and Pre Conception-Pre Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PC-PNDT) Acts.