A day after it allowed a woman to terminate her 25-week-old pregnancy, the Supreme Court on Tuesday asked All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) authorities to put it on hold for now.
A bench presided by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrchud noted that “AIIMS doctors are in a very serious dilemma” as they were of the view that the fetus is “currently viable” meaning that it will show signs of life and has a strong possibility of survival.
On Monday, a bench of Justices BV Nagarathna and Hima Kohli had allowed the woman, a mother of two, to undergo the procedure after she complained that she is suffering from ‘lactational amenorrhea’ and depression due to which she is “unwilling to continue with the pregnancy”.
The directive had AIIMS doctors in a quandary and they reached out to Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati for a clarification of the SC order. In a communication to the ASG, they said, “as the baby is currently viable (will show signs of life and have a strong possibility of survival), we will need a directive from the Supreme court on whether a feticide (stopping the fetal heart) can be done before termination. We perform this procedure for a fetus which has abnormal development, but generally not done in a normal fetus”.
The communication added, “if feticide is not performed, this is not a termination, but a preterm delivery where the baby born will be provided treatment and care. A baby who is born preterm and also of such low birth weight will have a long stay in the intensive care unit, with a high possibility of immediate and long term physical and mental disability which will seriously jeopardise the quality of life of the child. In such a scenario, a directive needs to be given as to what is to be done with the baby? If the parents agree to keep the child this will take a major physical, mental, emotional and financial toll on the couple”.
It also said “if it (newborn) is to go for adoption, the process needs to be spelt out clearly as it needs to be clear that the baby who comes into the world will have a better chance at life if the delivery happens after at least eight weeks”.
Bhati brought this to the attention of the CJI bench. She pointed out that the MTP was allowed despite medical opinion not favouring it. The court quickly realised the seriousness of the matter and put the procedure on hold.
The CJI asked the Centre to file a formal application for recall of Monday’s order and said he will list the application for hearing before the same two-judge bench.