Supreme Court of India Allows Medical Panel to Grant Legal Abortion to Pregnant 14-Year-Old Rape Survivor

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(PRESS RELEASE) Four gynecologists will determine whether a pregnant 14-year-old rape survivor can obtain a legal abortion, according to a ruling today by a two-judge panel in the Supreme Court of India.

The young girl, known as X, was allegedly raped by a doctor treating her for typhoid earlier this year and only discovered the pregnancy at the end of June. Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 abortion is only legal within 20 weeks of pregnancy—including in cases of grave injury to physical or mental health, rape, incest, fetal impairment and contraceptive failure—or any time during a pregnancy where it is “immediately necessary” to save the life of a pregnant woman.

Although doctors determined she was not physically or mentally prepared to continue with the pregnancy, the High Court of Gujarat at Ahmedabad denied X a legal abortion since she was 23 weeks pregnant at the time. The Supreme Court overturned the Gujarat High Court ruling and the medical panel will examine X on July 30 in Ahmedabad and determine whether there is risk to her life that justifies an abortion under the current law.

Said Melissa Upreti, regional director for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights:

“Forcing any woman or young girl to continue with an unwanted pregnancy is a serious violation of human rights.

“We commend the Supreme Court for stepping in to protect the reproductive rights of this young rape survivor.

“Now these medical experts must act quickly to ensure this young girl receives the reproductive health services she needs. Their failure to recognize the imminent risks to her life and future well-being will lead to further violations of her human rights.”

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 legalized abortion on broad grounds but with strict time limits. Decades later, more than half of the estimated 6 million abortions that take place each year are unsafe according to the Abortion Assessment Project-India.

This is not the first time that the Gujarat High Court has denied a young rape survivor an abortion. This case underscores the urgent need to adopt current proposals to amend the abortion law and make it more humane by permitting abortions even beyond 20 weeks.

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