Human Rights

Court in India allows third trimester abortion for a non-lethal disability

India, pregnant

The Punjab and Haryana High Court (PGIMER) in India recently granted a couple from Chandigrah permission to abort their 25-week-old baby due to a congenital defect. According to the Indian Express, the couple sought to terminate the pregnancy after a medical examination showed there was “hydrocephalus with lumbo sacral spina bifida and meningomyelocoele with muld polyhydramnios.” The Court allowed the petitioners to proceed with the abortion, remarking that even if the couple carried to term, their child’s life would be impacted by health issues. 

It does not appear that the couple was made aware of other options once their child was diagnosed with a disability. Instead, the opinion enforced by the court was that an abortion would spare the preborn baby suffering, a view that is sadly all too common in cases of spina bifida. Children diagnosed with this condition are often frequent targets for abortion, even though their disability cannot take away from the intrinsic worth they have as human beings.

READ: Mom of Lillian, who has spina bifida, says she ‘was offered an abortion at every visit’

While India prohibits abortions that take place after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, allows for late-term abortions in cases of rape or if a fetal anomaly has been detected. Since their preborn child had been diagnosed with a disability, the couple petitioned the High Court (HC) to seek permission for a late-term abortion. The HC then directed the PGIMER to constitute a board and submit a report. 

Within their report, the PGIMER said that the “patient may undergo termination of the pregnancy at this gestation in view of severe congenital developmental abnormality with features consistent with neural tube defect Arnold Chiari malformation Type-2 in the fetus.” After reading the report, HC Bench of Justice Fatehdeep Singh held that the congenital defect detected in the preborn child was grounds for the couple to obtain an abortion. 

New research from the Mayo Clinic, however, demonstrates the progress that has been made when it comes to treating spina bifida. It’s been found that when prenatal surgery is performed on preborn babies diagnosed with the condition, normal brain structure can be restored. Live Action News has reported on children like Abigail and Kaelyn, both of whom had successful fetal surgery operations for spina bifida. 

As Scroll India reported, Justice Singh argued that the woman in this case was an adult woman of sound mind, and the medical board had also indicated it was possible to terminate the pregnancy with an ultra-sounded guided injection of potassium chloride. Watch the video below:


“The courts in their endeavour to do justice need not function in a narrow strait jacket manner and need to have larger perspective of the human sufferings, bonds and desires and thereby ensure that a legal and legitimate relief to the party is not denied on religious dogmas and societal misbeliefs,” Justice Singh said.

But perhaps Justice Singh needs to question the “societal misbelief” that a disability is an acceptable reason to sentence an innocent child to death. Resources should be made available to help couples choose life in this situation instead of encouraging them to abort their child. 

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