Twenty-Six Weeks of Pregnancy

In a landmark ruling by the Bombay High Court on Monday, the abortion plea of Haresh and Niketa Mehta was rejected. Niketa Mehta is twenty-six weeks pregnant but the doctors had advised her that her to-be child could face problems after birth.

However, the ruling given by the High Court makes us question the outdated laws our system still swears by. Should a mother not be allowed to abort her child even when she knows that the child will be born with physical abnormalities and may not have a good standard of life? This case has again raised questions of ethics and morality in society. Aren’t the laws written by the legislators for the benefit of the people? Of what good are the laws, if it leads to the suffering of a young mother?

In this specific case, after more than twenty weeks of pregnancy, Niketa Mehta’s doctors had advised her that the child could face complications after birth. The child could be asymptomatic till the age of seven. He could even need a pacemaker right from the time of birth because of heart problems. And anyway, why would an expecting mother ever want to abort her baby if it is not for severe complications?

Here is a couple that went ahead and challenged the law which they thought was inappropriate. One of the reasons why the plea of the Mehta’s was rejected by the bench of judges headed by Justice RMS Khandeparkar, was the medical report given by the JJ Hospital. The report given by the JJ hospital astonishingly underwent a change in a day’s time. The conclusion of the medical reports given earlier said that there was “a fair chance that the child will be born incapacitated and handicapped to survive”. Whereas, on the day of the case in the court, this report had changed to “Least chances that the child will be born incapacitated and handicapped to survive”. No one really knows what caused the U-turn in the medical reports of the JJ Doctors though the hospital claims that it was a typo in the first medical report. Whatever the reason may be, the couple has the sympathies of the judges as well as the entire nation as Justice Khandeparkar said that the current law dated back to 1971, but it was not in the power of the judges to change the law. That power lies only with the legislators.

The change in the law that the family wanted to see was with respect to the section 5 of the MTP Act which allowed for the abortion of the child even after twenty weeks of cases but only in special cases where the mother’s life was in danger. The family wanted that the condition of the baby should also be included in this section especially if the baby is set to be born with congenital abnormalities or disabilities.

The case has gone against the Mehta’s, though they still have the Supreme Court to appeal to; but the questions raised by this case cannot be answered simply. This sensitive issue will have to be discussed by the legislators as the current law dates back to 1971. And anyway, which parent would want his or her child to suffer? Can this case be equivalent to Mercy Killing? These questions will take a long time to be answered, but for now the Mehta’s will have to be content with the ruling of the High Court and go ahead and have the baby.

Shishir Shrivastava

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