In what could be the first ever case, Calcutta High Court granted a pregnant woman’s plea to terminate her 29-week pregnancy with medical help. The HC bench comprising of Acting Chief Justice Biswanath Somadder and Justice Arindam Mukherjee dismissed the order passed by a single bench which rejected the woman’s petition to terminate her pregnancy when it was 26-week-old. The reason for termination, as given by the woman, is that the infant runs a high risk of Down syndrome, along with problems in the oesophagus, heart and abdomen.
The division bench observed the comments of the single judge and remarked that allowing the pregnancy to complete its full term – in this case – will severely compromise the quality and dignity of life both in respect of the mother and her unborn child, thereby squarely affecting the protection of life and personal liberty as enshrined under Article 21 of the Constitution of India.
“We must hasten to add here that even though in the case of pregnant women, there is a compelling State interest in order to protect the life of the prospective child, there is a corresponding obligation – nay, a bounden duty – on the part of the State to provide quality and dignity to such life and such quality and dignity of life should extend to the mother as well, whose life is paramount at the stage of pregnancy. On the other hand, if it is compromised, the provisions contained under section 3(2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, cannot operate as an absolute bar and can extend beyond 20 (twenty) weeks,” the bench added.
"The mother's personal life and liberty, as understood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, is inextricably linked with that of the unborn child and will continue even after she gives birth to the child. However, her life is paramount at this stage."
The bench also reflected on the medical report which stated that despite the surgery of the new-born baby, it will have to undergo a prolonged and complicated neonatal course due to the complication of prematurity as well as congenital malformation and the outcome of which is unpredictable.
“It is palpably evident that the foetus in the instant case can neither evolve nor develop further naturally to reverse the abnormalities already detected by medical science and produce a quality life once the child is born, which is clear from the report of the Medical Board. The mother's personal life and liberty, as understood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India, is inextricably linked with that of the unborn child and will continue even after she gives birth to the child. However, her life is paramount at this stage,” observed the bench.