Suchita Srivastava and Anr v. Chandigarh Administration (2009)

A woman, who had been orphaned was living in a government institution. She had the mental capacity of a nine-year-old. She did not have any familial support and therefore relied fully on the State for her care. She was raped and subsequently became pregnant while she was living in the institution. The Institution staff discovered her pregnancy when she was at nine weeks gestation. Upon this discovery, the government of Chandigarh filed a criminal case in the police station and constituted a medical board to evaluate the mental status of the woman. The medical board opined that the woman had an intellectual disability. Another government-constituted medical board opined that the woman’s pregnancy shall be terminated. The government then filed a petition with the High Court of Punjab and Haryana (“High Court”) requesting permission to terminate the pregnancy.

The High Court established an independent expert body of medical experts and judges to investigate the facts and to provide support to the High Court in its decision. The expert body recommended that, even though the victim was “unable to appreciate and understand the consequences of her own future and that of the child she is bearing,” her condition did not warrant termination of pregnancy. Furthermore, the expert body found that the woman wanted to continue the pregnancy. Nonetheless, the High Court granted Respondent permission to terminate the pregnancy. The woman/Appellant approached the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the High Court.

At the time of the appeal, the woman was 19 weeks into her pregnancy, and the statutory limit in India only permitted abortion up to 20 weeks gestation under Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act 1971 (“MTP Act”). This case hinged on Section 3 of the “MTP Act”, which permits access to abortion under certain conditions including the woman’s consent, the stage of the pregnancy, and the woman’s mental and physical health, as well as the health of the fetus.