During the Supreme Court session held on Thursday, where the Central government sought to overturn its prior decision from October 9 permitting a married woman to terminate her 26-week pregnancy, the bench, led by Chief Justice DY Chandrachud, expressed firm sentiments. The Court conveyed, “We cannot terminate the life of a child.”
However, the Court stressed to the Central government the importance of striking a balance between the rights of the “living and viable foetus” and the mother’s autonomy in making choices. Furthermore, the Court encouraged the Central government and the woman’s legal representative to engage in discussions about potentially postponing the pregnancy for a few additional weeks.
The case was forwarded to the Chief Justice-led bench following a split decision by a two-judge panel on the Central government’s request to reverse the October 9 ruling, which had granted permission to the woman, a mother of two, to terminate her 26-week pregnancy.
The Court had granted permission for the termination based on the woman’s struggle with depression and her inability to provide emotional, financial, and mental support for a third child.
In a noteworthy remark, the Court asked the 27-year-old woman’s legal representative, “Do you desire us to instruct the doctors at AIIMS to cease the fetal heartbeat?” In response to the lawyer’s negative response, the bench inquired whether the woman might consider continuing the pregnancy for a few more weeks.
The Court affirmed that the option to terminate the foetus is reserved for situations involving forced pregnancy or minors who are incapable of comprehending the consequences of childbirth.
On Monday, Justices Hima Kohli and BV Nagarathna had allowed the woman to terminate her pregnancy. However, two days later, they held differing opinions after a medical report indicated that stopping the foetal heart would be necessary as part of the procedure.
Justice Kohli expressed her reluctance to proceed with the earlier decision and questioned which court could order the cessation of a viable foetus’s heartbeat. She stated, “Speaking for myself, I would not.”
The order mentioned, “Considering the information contained in the October 10 email from the AIIMS professor of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, one of us (Justice Kohli) is disinclined to permit the petitioner to terminate the pregnancy.”
Conversely, Justice Nagarathna respectfully disagreed, asserting that the Court had thoroughly examined the woman’s plea in the detailed October 9 order, and the petitioner had firmly decided not to proceed with the pregnancy.
“Considering the concrete determination made by the petitioner, I believe that her decision should be respected. This is not a case where the question of whether a viable baby is born or unborn needs to be seriously considered, as the petitioner’s interests should be given greater balance and preference,” she stated in her order.