HC allows woman to terminate 28-week pregnancy

‘Foetus suffers from rare congenital heart disease, which is a substantial abnormality’

The Delhi High Court has said that reproductive choice is a facet of reproductive rights of a woman and a dimension of her ‘personal liberty’, while allowing a woman to terminate her 28 weeks’ pregnancy as the foetus suffers from a rare congenital heart disease.

Justice Jyoti Singh agreed with the contention of the woman that continuing the pregnancy would cause grave injury to her mental health.

“The petitioner (woman), in my view, is justified in contending that continuing with the pregnancy, once it is known that the foetus suffers from a rare congenital heart disease, which is a ‘substantial foetal abnormality’, with attendant complications and risks, would have a deleterious impact on her mental health,” Justice Singh said.

Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, termination is permissible where the length of pregnancy does not exceed 20 weeks, on an opinion formed of a doctor, that the pregnancy would cause a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or grave injury to her physical or mental health or if there is a risk that upon birth of the child, it would suffer serious physical or mental abnormality.

Where the length of pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks but not 24 weeks, termination is permissible on the opinion formed of two registered medical practitioners.

However, in the present case, the woman has completed 28 weeks of pregnancy. As the MTP Act does not permit pregnancy termination beyond 24 weeks, she approached the court.

The woman, 33, said she has been undergoing regular check-ups from the fifth week of her pregnancy. “From the ultrasonography report, conducted during the 20th week of gestation, it was revealed that there was choroid plexus cyst in the left lateral ventricle of the foetus,” the plea said.

“However, since the foetus was only 20-week-old, foetal echocardiography was not performed. On completion of 24 weeks, foetal echo-doppler test was done…and various anomalies were found in the heart of the foetus,” the plea said.

The High Court said the woman cannot be deprived of the freedom to take a decision to continue or not to continue with the pregnancy, in the backdrop of the foetal abnormalities.

It took the decision based on a report by a medical board which opined that the child, if born, would have to undergo repeated cardiac surgeries. The board said the foetus suffers from a hole in the heart (ventricular septal defect), along with poorly developed valve that guards the blood vessel taking blood from the right side of the heart to lungs, which leads to both obstruction and leaking of valve.

The board said that in addition to the heart disease, the foetus is likely to have associated airway problems leading to requirement of respiratory support in the first year of life.

“This court cannot also overlook the opinion of the board that the child would require a cardiac surgery not only in the initial stage of life but may also need a repeat cardiac surgery in late adolescence or adulthood. This entire medical regime would expose the child to intra and post-operative complications and may lead to further complexities, adversely impacting the quality of the child’s life,” Justice Singh said.

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