India: Activists Demand Change in Abortion Law

Akash Vashishtha
New Delhi
2017-07-21
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170721-IN-protest-620.jpg Residents of Shimla, India, protest for justice after a teenage girl from the area was raped and killed, July 20, 2017.
AFP

Women’s rights activists in India expressed outrage Friday over a court’s decision to deny a 10-year-old rape victim permission for an abortion, saying the verdict could seriously harm the girl’s physical and mental health.

A court in the northern city of Chandigarh earlier this week dismissed a request by police to allow the girl to terminate her 26-week pregnancy.

The court said it based its ruling on a report from the gynecology department of the Government Medical College and Hospital saying that aborting a fetus older than 20 weeks could threaten the mother’s life.

India’s Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 allows termination of pregnancy up to 20 weeks only. Fetuses beyond that period may be aborted under exceptional circumstances, if doctors believe that giving birth would cause grave harm – physically or mentally – to the mother or the child, according to the law.

While urging lawmakers to amend the MTP Act, activists said giving birth would likely leave the girl physically as well as mentally traumatized.

“The Supreme Court has stated that in exceptional cases, the condition of over 20 weeks pregnancy can be waived if the woman is not well or her baby is at risk. A woman’s body is her own and she has a right of choice to decide whether to abort or not,” Ritu Kumar of the New Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network (HRLN) told BenarNews.

“It is an emotional trauma as the girl herself is a child. She can’t undergo the mental and physical suffering. This [verdict] is completely unjustified. This is unfair not only to the 10-year-old girl but also to the child who will be born,” Kumar said.

Raped for months, say police

The girl, a Nepalese by origin, allegedly was raped repeatedly by her maternal uncle over the last seven months, police said, adding her pregnancy came to light when the victim complained to her mother about pain in her abdomen.

The accused has been arrested, police said.

The family of the victim, who cannot be named because she is a minor, could not be reached for a comment.

Rajdeep Singh, the station house officer of Chandigarh’s Sector-39 police station, told BenarNews: “The case is of a very serious nature and involves a minor. We are legally bound not to share any details about the girl’s family or her whereabouts.”

An amendment to the MTP Act is urgently needed, said Sucheta De, a rights volunteer at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University.

“The court should have granted permission for abortion in this case on the basis of legal precedence,” De told BenarNews, adding, “The law should be reformulated. A woman should have complete right over her body.”

Although an amendment to the MTP Act was introduced in the Indian parliament in 2006 and recommended increasing the time for termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks, it has yet to be passed by lawmakers.

On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court allowed a Mumbai resident to abort her 24-week pregnancy because of an abnormality in the fetus that could endanger her life.

Hearing a separate case over a month later, the Supreme Court turned down a woman’s plea to abort her 26-week fetus, who, the doctors confirmed, would likely be born with Down syndrome. The court ruled that aborting a fetus of more than 20 weeks could only be allowed in cases where there was a danger to the life of either the mother or child.

However, for a 10-year-old girl to give birth would surely pose serious risks to her health and her life, according to Dr. Nikita Trehan, a top Indian gynecologist.

“A 10-year-old girl still has not developed bones and pelvic muscles. They don’t have enough iron and calcium to transfer to their babies. And because of undeveloped bones, the girl may suffer a fracture during childbirth. She may bleed excessively. Her uterus may not respond. It is full of risks,” she said.

“The girl, a minor rape victim, has already gone through enough physical and mental trauma. Amid this, being forced to deliver a baby would be further detrimental to her,” Trehan told BenarNews.

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