The Petitioner, a minor girl, through her father sought a Court order under Article 226 (Writ Jurisdiction of High Courts) of the Constitution of India seeking issuance of directions to the government authority for the termination of her pregnancy. In accordance with the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (the “MTP Act”), abortion is permissible up to the 20th week of a pregnancy in cases where the pregnancy poses a risk to the woman’s life or her physical or mental health or where there is a substantial risk of fetal impairment. Under the MTP Act, pregnancies resulting from rape are presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. The MTP Act only provides for termination beyond the 20th week when the pregnant woman’s life is at risk.
By the time the case reached the High Court, the Petitioner was more than 20 weeks into her pregnancy, which resulted from rape. Noting her youth and that she was in bad health, the Petitioner argued that continuing the pregnancy would jeopardize her mental and physical health. Relying on prior case law that interpreted the MTP Act as permitting terminations beyond the 20th week where pregnancy poses a serious risk to the pregnant woman, the Petitioner sought permission to obtain an abortion.
The Court framed the legal issue in this case as whether the girl’s youth and risk of complications from her severe anemia render termination of pregnancy legally permissible at 22 weeks of pregnancy. It recognized that prior case law permitted medical termination beyond the 20th week of pregnancy based on risks to the woman’s health and further noted that a risk to the woman’s mental health may be presumed in pregnancies beyond 20 weeks that result from rape. The Court noted that case law applied a “best interests” test to pregnancies beyond 20 weeks, taking into account the feasibility of the pregnancy and the health risks and social circumstances faced by the minor girl. This is concerned with the interests of the minor girl and not her guardian or third parties, societal interests, or values in the abstract.
In applying this test, the Court referred to Petitioner’s youth and reports from medical professionals indicating that continuing the pregnancy may increase the likelihood of mental trauma. The Court also noted a presumption of mental anguish would apply here, as the pregnancy at issue had resulted from rape. The Court found that the best interests of the petitioner therefore favored granting her request for a medical termination. Accordingly, the Court ordered medical officials to make arrangements for medical evaluation of the petitioner and termination of the pregnancy as soon as possible, recognizing that this would be in her best interests. The Court also directed the State of Gujarat and concerned authorities to inform the Court of the outcome and the petitioner’s wellbeing within one week, and to provide the Petitioner ongoing treatment as necessary.