IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA
CIVIL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION
WRIT PETITION (CIVIL) NO.17 OF 2017
MEERA SANTOSH PAL AND ORS PETITIONER(S)
UNION OF INDIA AND ORS RESPONDENT(S)
O R D E R
Petitioner No.1 – Meera Santosh Pal, is 22 years old, has approached
this Court under Article 32 of the Constitution of India seeking directions
to the respondents to allow her to undergo medical termination of her
pregnancy. She apprehended danger to her life, having discovered that her
fetus was diagnosed with Anencephaly, a defect that leaves foetal skull
bones unformed and is both untreatable and certain to cause the infant’s
death during or shortly after birth. This condition is also known to
endanger the mother’s life.
By order dated 11.1.2017, while issuing notice to the respondents,
this Court gave a direction for examination of petitioner no.1 by a Medical
Board consisting of the following seven Doctors :
1. Dr. Avinash N. Supe, Director (Medical Education & Major Hospitals) &
Dean (G&K) – Chairman
2. Dr. Shubhangi Parkar, Professor and HOD, Psychiatry, KEM Hospital
3. Dr. Amar Pazare, professor and HOD, Medicine, KEM Hosptial
4. Dr. Indrani Hemantkumar Chincholi, Professor and HOD, Anaesthesia,
5. Dr. Y.S. Nandanwar, Professor and HOD, Obstetrics, KEM Hospitals
6. Dr. Anahita Chauhan, Professor and Unit Head, Obstetrics &
Gynecology, LTMMC and LTMG Hospitals
7. Dr. Hemangini Thakkar, Addl. Professor, Radiology, KEM Hospital.
As on 12.1.2017, she was into her 24th week of pregnancy. This is
also borne by the report dated 12.1.2017, received from the Director (ME &
MH)’s Office, Seth G.S. Medical College & KEM Hospital, Parel, Mumbai – 400
By its report dated 12.1.2017, the Medical Board has examined
petitioner no.1 with specific reference to their special expertise for
general, medical, radiological, psychiatric and anaesthetic evaluation. An
obstetric evaluation was done by two Obstetricians. Ultrasonography was
performed at KEM Hospital on 12.1.2017 by the Additional Professor,
Radiology. The said Board has further reported that obstetric examination
shows 24 weeks pregnancy, external ballottement present, fetal parts not
well felt with mild polyhydramnios. On internal examination, the cervix is
posterior and OS is closed. Ultrasonography diagnosis has revealed a single
live fetus with anencephaly with mild polyhydramnios with hypotelorism.
We have been informed that the fetus is without a skull and would,
therefore, not be in a position to survive. It is also submitted that
petitioner no.1 has undergone psychiatric evaluation. She is reported to be
coherent, has average intelligence and with good comprehension. She
understands that her fetus is abnormal and the risk of fetal mortality is
high. She also has the support of her husband in her decision making.
Upon evaluation of petitioner no.1, the aforesaid Medical Board has
concluded that her current pregnancy is of about 24 weeks. The condition of
the fetus is not compatible with extra-uterine life. In other words, the
fetus would not be able to survive outside the uterus.
Importantly, it is reported that the continuation of pregnancy can
gravely endanger the physical and mental health of petitioner no.1 and the
risk of her termination of pregnancy is within acceptable limits with
institutional back up.
This Court, as at present being advised, would not enter into the
medico-legal aspect of the identity of the fetus but consider it
appropriate to decide the matter from the standpoint of the right of
petitioner no.1 to preserve her life in view of the foreseeable danger to
it, in case she allows the current pregnancy to run its full course. The
medical evidence clearly suggests that there is no point in allowing the
pregnancy to run its full course since the fetus would not be able to
survive outside the uterus without a skull.
In Suchita Srivastava and Anr. vs. Chandigarh Administration [(2009)
9 SCC 1], a bench of three Judges held “a woman’s right to make
reproductive choices is also a dimension of ‘personal liberty’ as
understood under Article 21 of the Constitution”. The Court there dealt
with the importance of the consent of the pregnant woman as an essential
requirement for proceeding with the termination of pregnancy. The Court
observed as follows:-
“22. There is no doubt that a woman’s right to make reproductive choices is
also a dimension of “personal liberty” as understood under Article 21 of
the Constitution of India. It is important to recognise that reproductive
choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from
procreating. The crucial consideration is that a woman’s right to privacy,
dignity and bodily integrity should be respected. This means that there
should be no restriction whatsoever on the exercise of reproductive choices
such as a woman’s right to refuse participation in sexual activity or
alternatively the insistence on use of contraceptive methods. Furthermore,
women are also free to choose birth control methods such as undergoing
sterilisation procedures. Taken to their logical conclusion, reproductive
rights include a woman’s entitlement to carry a pregnancy to its full term,
to give birth and to subsequently raise children…..”
The crucial consideration in the present case is whether the right to
bodily integrity calls for a permission to allow her to terminate her
pregnancy. The report of the Medical Board clearly warrants the inference
that the continuance of the pregnancy involves the risk to the life of the
pregnant woman and a possible grave injury to her physical or mental health
as required by Section 3 (2)(i) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy
Act, 1971. Though, the pregnancy is into the 24th week, having regard to
the danger to the life and the certain inability of the fetus to survive
extra uterine life, we consider it appropriate to permit the petitioner to
terminate the pregnancy. The overriding consideration is that she has a
right to take all such steps as necessary to preserve her own life against
the avoidable danger to it.
In these circumstances given the danger to her life, there is no
doubt that she has a right to protect and preserve her life and
particularly since she has made an informed choice. The exercise of her
right seems to be within the limits of reproductive autonomy.
In the circumstances, we consider it appropriate in the interests of
justice and particularly, to permit petitioner no.1 to undergo medical
termination of her pregnancy under the provisions of Medical Termination of
Pregnancy Act, 1971. The learned Solicitor General Mr. Ranjit Kumar who
took notice on the last date of hearing has not opposed the petitioners
prayer on any ground, legal or medical. We order accordingly.
The termination of pregnancy of petitioner no.1 will be performed by
the Doctors of the hospital where she has undergone medical check-up.
Further, termination of her pregnancy would be supervised by the above
stated Medical Board who shall maintain complete record of the procedure
which is to be performed on petitioner No.1 for termination of her
With the aforesaid directions, the instant writ petition is allowed
in terms of prayer (a) seeking direction to the respondents to allow
petitioner no.1 to undergo medical termination of her pregnancy.
Mr. Colin Gonsalves, learned Senior Counsel appearing for the
petitioners, submits that the petitioners do not press other prayers in the
instant writ petition.
We take on record the aforesaid submission made by Mr. Gonsalves,
learned counsel appearing for the petitioners.
[S. A. BOBDE]
[L. NAGESWARA RAO]
JANUARY 16, 2017.