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Mumbai woman gets Supreme Court nod to abort 24-week-old foetus

The Supreme Court on Monday allowed 22-year-old Mira Pal, a Mumbai resident, to abort her foetus despite her pregnancy having crossed the stipulated 20-week legal limit for the procedure. The SC Bench, consisting of Justices SA Bobde and L Nageswara Rao, allowed medical termination of the pregnancy (MTP) citing the mother’s right to “preserve her life”.

Both Mira and her husband Santosh were relieved when they received an SMS at 1.30 pm from their team of lawyers informing them of the court’s decision.

On January 11, the court had ordered KEM Hospital in Mumbai to constitute a board and diagnose the feasibility of an abortion. A report prepared by a seven-doctor board stated that the foetus, approximately 24 weeks old (on January 12), suffered anencephaly with mild polyhydramnios and hypotelorism. Simply put, anencephaly is a congenital defect where a major portion of the brain, skull and scalp goes missing. The report further stated that such a foetus would not survive outside the womb. It also said that continuation of the pregnancy would gravely endanger the physical and mental health of the mother.

Speaking to DNA, Pal said he was now a relived man. “My wife was beyond 20 weeks pregnant when we found out about the condition of the foetus.” When the doctor they were consulting at a hospital in Dombivli refused to terminate the pregnancy, Pal’s brother-in-law, a doctor, recommended that they visit Dr Sangeeta Pikale.

“Dr Sangeeta and Dr Nikhil Datar helped us approach the Supreme Court,” said 38-year-old Pal, who works as a freelance typist in Mumbai’s Fort area. The couple who have been married for a year were looking forward to their first baby.

Lawyers from the Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) fought their case pro bono. In the petition, Sneha Mukherjee from HRLN stated that “determination of foetal abnormality in many cases can only be done after the 20th week, and by keeping the ceiling artificially low. Women who obtain reports of serious foetal abnormality after the 20th week, have to suffer excruciating pain and agony on account of the deliveries that they are forced to go through.”

Not happy with the direction to carry out the procedure at KEM Hospital, Pal said, “We should have the right to make the decision. The private sector supported us, or else, this would not have been possible. For the past 22 days, despite the tremendous support, I had to run from pillar to post,” he said.

Pal now hopes that there is some change in the law, so that other people don’t have to go through similar ordeals. “We suffered so much. This law must change. I have fought not just for me but for others who may find themselves in a similar position,” he said.

Birth pangs

Out of the 26 million births in India every year, approximately 2-3% of the foetuses have severe congenital or chromosomal abnormality. Many suffer Intrauterine Fetal Death (IUFD) or are stillborn.