New Delhi: How late can a mother abort her foetus if it has abnormalities? The law says 20 weeks, but now the Supreme Court has asked the Centre for its opinion on whether that it can be done even later. The issue came to light after the court heard Niketa Mehta's case on her attempts to get her 24-week-old foetus aborted last year.
"All I wanted was a healthy child, whatever the sex," Niketa Mehta had said when she was expecting her child.
For this very wish, she and her husband Harsh Mehta had initiated a legal challenge to the 37-year-old abortion law of the country which prevents abortion after the 20th week unless the pregnancy constitutes a health risk for the mother.
Their plea to allow them to terminate a 24-week-old pregnancy after feotal abnormalities were detected, triggered a big ethics debate in medical and legal circles.
Supreme Court Advocate Priya Hingorani wanted to know 'how right it was to terminate a pregnancy'.
Fetal abnormalities can be detected in the first trimester of pregnancy by simple ultrasounds, but congenital heart defects, Downs Syndrome and other other chromosomal anomalies can at best be confirmed only by the 20th to 24th week.
Here lies the dilemma. The probability of the foetus surviving nine months is very low and if the child is born, it could suffer from both mental and physiological defects.
With new technologies available, most doctors are of the view that the law needs to be amended, much like in the UK where abortion is legal upto 24 weeks. Foetal experts like Anita Kaul too feel that the law needs to change.
The Bombay High Court had then rejected the Mehta's plea for abortion and Niketa ultimately suffered a miscarriage. With the Supreme Court taking notice and even the Health Ministry mulling a re-legislation, the Mehta's may well have paved the way for other expectant parents.
(With inputs from Ginny Narula)