India’s Supreme Court on Thursday granted a 25-year-old unmarried Delhi woman permission to terminate her pregnancy at six months, or 24 weeks, which is beyond the 20 weeks that Indian law allows as a maximum timeframe within which most women may abort their unborn babies, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.
India’s 1971 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act stipulates that most women are allowed to abort their pregnancies up to 20 weeks. Certain categories of women are allowed to terminate their pregnancies up to 24 weeks under the act. These select categories include: “survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest”; “minors”; and women whose marital status changes “during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce).”
India’s Supreme Court granted the 25-year-old Delhi woman permission for an abortion at 24 weeks on July 21 after she challenged a previous ruling by the Delhi High Court on July 16 denying her permission for an abortion 23 weeks into her pregnancy.
The Indian Supreme Court claimed that the woman’s status as “unmarried” was central to its logic in producing the verdict issued on Thursday.
PTI detailed how India’s Supreme Court reached its ruling in the landmark case, writing:
The bench said that provisions of the MTP Act amended in 2021 include the word “partner” instead of “husband” in the explanation to section 3, which shows the intent of Parliament that it was not to confine the situations arising only out of matrimonial relationships.
It said that the use of the word “partner” ascribes to an intention of the Parliament to cover “unmarried woman” under the Act which is in consonance with the constitution.
It added that the Delhi High Court had taken an unduly restricted view by not allowing the woman to undergo medical termination of pregnancy at 23 weeks arising out of a consensual relationship on the ground that she was “unmarried”.
An unborn baby is considered “viable” at 24 weeks of development, which is equal to six months. This means that “[i]f born prematurely, [the] baby may survive after the 23rd week with intensive care,” the Cleveland Clinic writes on its official website.
The U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) agrees that “by the time you’re 24 weeks pregnant, the baby has a chance of survival if they are born. Most babies born before this time cannot live because their lungs and other vital organs are not developed enough.”
“The care that can now be given in baby (neonatal) units means more and more babies born early do survive,” according to the British public health service.
An unborn baby at six months of development has fingerprints, is capable of opening his or her eyes, and physically responds to external stimuli such as sounds.
“If you could look inside the uterus right now, you would see that the fetus’s skin is reddish in color, wrinkled and veins are visible through translucent skin. The finger and toe prints are visible. In this stage, the eyelids begin to part and the eyes open,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
“The fetus responds to sounds by moving or increasing the pulse. You may notice jerking motions if the fetus hiccups,” the nonprofit, U.S.-based academic medical center writes.
The 25-year-old woman granted permission for an abortion at six months pregnant on July 21 by India’s Supreme Court stated that she had been in a “consensual” relationship through her pregnancy’s early stages but that the father of her unborn baby refused to marry her. The Delhi High Court cited this admission as part of its reason for rejecting the woman’s plea for an abortion, stating, “‘[U]nmarried woman whose pregnancy arises out of a consensual relationship’ was not covered under the categories of women mentioned in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, whose pregnancy can be terminated above the 20 weeks,” as quoted by India’s Firstpost news website.
Delhi High Court Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharmahe and Justice Subramonium Prasad wrote the following in their ruling, “We will not permit you to kill that child. (We are) very sorry. This virtually amounts to killing (the foetus),” India’s Firstpost reported.
Chief Justice Sharmahe additionally suggested that the woman give her baby up for adoption, even offering to pay for the birth and adoption-related costs himself.
“We will ensure that she is kept somewhere in a safe hospital and she can deliver and go. There is a big queue for adoption […] Everything will be looked after by the Government of India or (the) government of Delhi or some good hospital. If the government does not pay […] I am there to pay,” Chief Justice Sharmahe stated.