SC Rejects HIV+ Rape Victim’s Plea To Terminate Pregnancy

The Apex Court has the potential to make a breakthrough in gender jurisprudence.

The Supreme Court, on 9 May, rejected a 26 weeks pregnant woman's plea for abortion, and directed the Bihar government to pay Rs 3 lakh as compensation to the 35-year-old HIV-positive woman, who was raped on the streets of Patna.

In its report to the apex court, the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) medical warned that the woman's life would be in danger if she were allowed to terminate the pregnancy.

The apex court said the destitute woman, who had been sexually assaulted and suffered from a serious medical ailment, should not be allowed to suffer further. 

Earlier, a bench, headed by Justice Dipak Misra, directed the medical board to examine the woman to find out whether it would be safe to medically terminate her pregnancy.

Earlier, the Patna High Court had said it was unsafe to terminate the pregnancy as it had crossed the legal embargo of 20 weeks under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.

Why Ask Family For Consent?

The apex court, on 8 May, wanted to know why the Patna High Court and Patna Medical College and Hospital (PMCH) had sought the consent of her father and husband when the victim herself was against going ahead with the pregnancy keeping in mind that there was no family support to her

She was deserted by the husband, while her parents had refused to accept her for reasons including alleging that she was of an unstable mind. As the matter came up for hearing, a bench comprising Justices Dipak Misra and A M Khanwilkar was informed about these facts by her counsel

The submission evoked sharp reaction from the bench which said "in the unfortunate circumstance, when a woman is raped and she is pregnant, her dignity to life is affected."

“How can her brother, father or husband be asked to give a consent? It is she who will mother the child,” the bench said, while posting the matter for hearing on 9 May.

The issue arose after victim's advocate Vrinda Grover told the bench that the woman deserved compensation from the Bihar government as she had gone to PMCH for terminating her pregnancy when she was in her 17th week of pregnancy

"She had said that she would terminate her pregnancy. The hospital asked for the consent of the father which he gave, though it was not required under the law," she said. To this, the bench asked Additional Solicitor Generals Tushar Mehta and P S Narsimha, "how is the father's consent required?" Mehta said it was not required in this case

Grover said when the woman had approached the high court, it had also asked her father and husband for consent. She said the high court had failed to appreciate that the woman was 35 years of age and completely fit to make her own reproductive choices without any interference

In her plea, the woman said she was a destitute and had come to know about her pregnancy for the first time around the 13th week, and that too after she was rescued by Shanti Kutir, a Women's Rehabilitation Centre, and taken a pregnancy test on 26 January.

The woman said she had expressed her desire to terminate her pregnancy on March 4 to a research officer of Koshish, a Field Action Project of Tata Institute of Social Sciences, with whom she was in contact. However, it was only after she revealed to the superintendent of the shelter home that the pregnancy was the outcome of rape, she made attempts to have it terminated at the hospital on 14 March.

According to the plea, the hospital refused to admit the woman owing to lack of identity proof.

(With PTI inputs)