Gynecologist Challenges India's Abortion Law

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In the summer of 2008, a patient of Mumbai gynecologist Nikhil Datar found out in her 25th week of pregnancy that her fetus had a serious heart defect and would not likely survive after birth.  She and her husband were eager to have a baby, but after much thought they decided to terminate the pregnancy.

India, however, criminalizes abortion after 20 weeks, except when a pregnant woman's life is endangered.  Dr. Datar, his patient, and her husband requested approval for an abortion from the High Court of Mumbai.  Despite the profound anguish the woman faced from continuing the pregnancy and the fetus's severe impairment, the High Court refused the request.

Case Asks Indian Supreme Court to Change Abortion Law

Though this patient eventually miscarried, several of Dr. Datar's other patients have faced the same predicament.  On February 13, 2009, Dr. Datar filed a case with the Indian Supreme Court to change the country's abortion law – the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act)—and allow abortion when a fetal impairment is not identified until after 20 weeks.

"Dr. Datar's case demonstrates what most countries have already acknowledged: that women may have legitimate and important reasons to terminate a pregnancy after 20 weeks," said Melissa Upreti, regional manager and legal adviser for Asia at the Center for Reproductive Rights.  

"Despite major advancements in medical technology, certain fetal impairments cannot be detected and fully evaluated until after the 20th week of pregnancy.  The law should enable women in this situation to make decisions that are appropriate for them, given their own health needs and their unique life circumstances."

Dr. Datar is represented by the Delhi-based Human Rights Law Network (HRLN).  To assist Dr. Datar in his bold attempt to change India's law, the Center provided research to HRLN on international and comparative legal frameworks for abortion.  The Center will also strengthen Dr. Datar's case by submitting a memorandum in support of his petition to the Supreme Court of India.