12th October 2023,Mumbai: The Woman’s Appeal for Abortion
In a recent legal battle, a woman pleaded to the Supreme Court for permission to terminate her 26-week pregnancy, citing severe depression and her inability to care for a third child. The Court, however, expressed reservations about granting her request, emphasizing the need to balance the rights of the unborn child with a woman’s reproductive right.
The Supreme Court’s Stance
A bench led by Chief Justice of India Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud firmly stated its reluctance to approve the abortion, reflecting concerns over “foeticide.” This article delves into the legal complexities of the case, highlighting the delicate equilibrium between a woman’s reproductive autonomy and the rights of the unborn child.
Conflicting Opinions on Abortion
Earlier, a two-judge bench was divided in its opinion on whether the abortion should proceed, resulting in a deadlock. The subsequent CJI-led bench underscored the significance of a woman’s reproductive rights under Article 21 of the Constitution. Still, it pointed out that no one was representing the interests of the unborn child in the courtroom.
Exceptions for Termination
The Supreme Court acknowledged the importance of allowing abortion in cases of forced pregnancy or when a minor lacks the awareness to comprehend the consequences of childbirth. However, the central question revolved around the 27-year-old petitioner’s decisional autonomy and her ability to care for a third child amidst her depression.
Government’s Opposition and Medical Opinion
The Union government sought the Court’s intervention, presenting a new medical opinion suggesting that terminating the pregnancy would require stopping the foetal heart. The CJI-led bench responded by temporarily deferring the abortion, emphasizing the change in the medical board’s opinion, which now included the term “foeticide.”
Challenging the Law and Medical Opinion
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, representing the government, argued that the Court’s initial order contradicted both legal standards and medical expertise. Bhati expressed concerns about the potential chaos that could ensue if the order were to be disregarded, emphasizing that the petitioner had been wavering in her decision.
The Viability of the Fetus
When asked by the bench if he desired to end the pregnancy, the petitioner’s lawyer, Rahul Sharma, responded in the negative. Sharma contended that the question of foetal viability was raised primarily because of the petitioner’s marital status, suggesting that unmarried or minor women might face a different set of circumstances.
An Ethical Dilemma
This case underscores the profound ethical and legal dilemmas surrounding abortion, especially in situations where the woman’s mental health is at stake. The Supreme Court’s deliberations on balancing the reproductive rights of the mother with the rights of the unborn child reveal the intricacies of this complex issue.
As the woman’s plea for abortion due to her depression continues to unfold in the Supreme Court, it prompts a reflection on the need for nuanced and compassionate legal judgments. The delicate balance between a woman’s reproductive autonomy and the rights of the unborn child remains a challenging issue, requiring careful consideration and compassion in the pursuit of justice.
-by Kashvi Gala