8888677771 | SC verdict denying MTP bares apathy for mental health, say NGOs | Mumbai News

MUMBAI: Health activists have expressed “deep disappointment” with the Supreme Court‘s October 16 judgment denying abortion to a 27-year-old woman, who was then 26 weeks pregnant.
The case, according to a statement released by CommonHealth, a coalition for reproductive health and safe abortion, highlights issues with access to abortion services, such as poor knowledge among doctors about second-trimester termination, failure of the mechanism of setting up medical boards to prevent cases from reaching courts and failure to consider mental health a priority.
“Focusing on the pregnancy and fetus with little attention to the woman’s mental health and ability to adjust to changed medications underscores that mental health issues are not a priority,” said the letter.

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The pregnant woman, who has two children, had sought permission to terminate her pregnancy under Article 32 (the right to approach the SC for constitutional remedies when fundamental rights are violated).
She had been diagnosed with postpartum psychosis, had conceived during lactational amenorrhoea (abnormal absence of monthly periods) and discovered her pregnancy around the 24th week.
The SC granted permission on October 9, citing risk to her mental health, based on recommendations of the medical board of AIIMS, New Delhi. But an obstetrician from the board expressed concerns about ‘foeticide’ the next day, leading to the case being presented to a two-judge bench.
A split verdict led to the case being referred to a three-judge bench, including CJI. The AIIMS medical board was asked to re-evaluate the foetus and the implications of the petitioner’s postpartum psychosis medications on her pregnancy. The board reported no foetal abnormalities and recommended an alternative treatment. Then, on October 16, the bench denied permission, citing the statutory limit of 24 weeks and absence of “substantial foetal abnormalities”.
The CommonHealth statement said, “The right to make informed choices about one’s body, including pregnancy decisions, is vital to individual autonomy, privacy and personal freedom.” Activists are of the opinion that forcing the woman to undergo repeated “counselling” and continue an unwanted pregnancy would negatively affect her mental health. Also, antipsychotic medications are known to have serious adverse effects on the foetus. Yet, “scant attention” was paid to the medical board’s statement that ultrasound scans do not detect all fetal abnormalities.

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