The Bombay High Court recently asked the Maharashtra government to consider and respond to various suggestions to help create awareness about existing medical boards set up under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 2021.
As per law, medical boards adjudicate upon cases of pregnant women seeking termination of pregnancy above 24 weeks, and whether the reason for seeking such termination is foetal anomalies. Medical boards comprise a gynaecologist, paediatrician, radiologist and other members notified by the state.
The HC passed an order in a plea, wherein it had recently allowed a 32-year-old woman to terminate her 26-week pregnancy, based on the medical board’s assessment that the woman was physically and mentally suitable for the procedure.
After the petition was worked out, the petitioner’s advocates Anubha Rastogi and Rachita Padwal, on August 30, submitted that despite amendments to section 3 of the 2021 law, medical boards have not been set up at several places, and if set up, people are not aware of them.
On October 17, a bench of Justice Revati Mohite-Dere and Justice Gauri V Godse perused additional suggestions given by Rastogi to help create awareness about existing medical boards.
Suggestions include providing a list of medical boards and their contact details to government hospitals, health services under National Health Mission, and primary and community healthcare centres.
The list of boards is sought to be given to the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecologists (FOGSI), so that private doctors know about the boards, and can refer to them patients who require the opinion of a medical board related to termination of pregnancy.
Rastogi also sought the list of boards to be given to the radiologists/sonologists association whose members detect anomalies during the checkup, and inform pregnant women or their family about how to access the boards.
The lawyers said the Centre’s information poster about community awareness can also be translated into Marathi and other local languages, and information can be provided to health officials or administrators for monitoring approvals and termination procedures at appropriate levels of facilities.
The list of medical boards, the lawyer suggested, should be included in Information, Education and Communication (IEC) tools of NGOs working on reproductive health issues at the grassroot level, and material and information be disseminated to district and sub district level functionaries having direct interface with beneficiaries and their families.
Moreover, the information should be made available with ASHA workers who are otherwise mandated to provide information and material related to contraception, immunisation and vaccination amongst other tasks.
The bench asked additional government pleader Himanshu Takke to take instructions from concerned officials on suggestions given by the lawyer and posted further hearing to November 7.