In India, the topic of abortion remains a contentious issue, eliciting a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. This is due to the myriad of religions and cultures that coexist within our nation. What is deemed morally acceptable by one segment of society may sharply contrast with the convictions held by others related to medical termination of pregnancy. Finding common ground amidst this diversity is challenging but essential.
The Kerala High Court's recent decision not to permit the abortion of a 30-week pregnancy in a case involving a 14-year-old rape survivor has sparked considerable debate. This decision was primarily influenced by the pregnancy's advanced stage. Strangely, the court also noted that reports on the file indicated that the young victim had not been forced by the rape accused.
The mother of the young rape survivor had petitioned for the right to terminate her daughter's pregnancy and that the accused was booked under the Protection of the Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. The mother's legal representation argued that the girl, a mere child herself, should be allowed to end her pregnancy, given its traumatic origin in rape. Yet, the court, referencing the opinion of the Medical Board, concluded that an abortion was no longer a viable option. The Board's assessment was clear: at this advanced stage of pregnancy, the only course was to proceed towards a live birth.
In a thought-provoking comparison, let us examine another recent case that came before the same Kerala High Court that shed light on the nuanced nature of judicial decisions involving minors and pregnancy. In this particular instance, the court faced the daunting task of deciding on the medical termination of pregnancy for a 15-year-old girl who had been impregnated by her own brother. At the time of the court's deliberation, the minor girl was already 32 weeks into her pregnancy. Recognising the social and medical complexities surrounding this situation, the court granted the victim the permission for termination of the pregnancy. The rationale behind this decision was the anticipation of severe social and medical complications arising from the birth of a child from the girl’s own sibling. In the eyes of the court, the necessity for allowing the termination of pregnancy in this case was all but inevitable.
The divergence in outcomes between the two critical court cases shows us the profound complexities inherent in legal proceedings involving minor rape victims. It prompts us to question the very essence of justice, morality, and the intricate interplay of societal norms and familial bonds. These cases question the role of the justice delivery system in safeguarding the rights and well-being of young victims thrust into unimaginable circumstances. In our ever-evolving world, the boundaries between right and wrong can often blur, leaving us in a moral grey area that demands careful consideration. The courts are expected to navigate this complex terrain with utmost compassion, wisdom and empathy for the victims.
Take, for instance, a recent case in Gujarat, where a rape survivor desperately sought permission for the medical termination of pregnancy at the 27-week mark. This was a race against the clock, where every moment counted. Regrettably, the Gujarat High Court's response was far from swift. Even when the medical report, a crucial piece of evidence, was presented before the court, it inexplicably scheduled the matter for consideration after 12 days. So many days were squandered, while the survivor's anguish and uncertainty continued to mount.
The Supreme Court ultimately emerged as the beacon of hope for the victim, delivering a scathing critique of the Gujarat High Court's handling of the case. The apex court did not mince words when it lambasted the Gujarat High Court for its apparent failure to comprehend the precious time that was slipping away in cases of such utmost significance. The top court called for an immediate reevaluation of the victim's medical condition and expedited the matter for urgent consideration.
The Supreme Court's admonishment was unequivocal: there must be a palpable "sense of urgency" instead of the unacceptable "lackadaisical attitude" that had thus far characterised the handling of pregnancy termination cases. In the Gujarat High Court’s case, the delay happened even in the wake of a medical report dated August 10 that unequivocally supported the victim's plea for a safe abortion. However, the High Court adjourned the matter to August 23. Adding to the perplexity, the high court also rejected the victim’s plea without providing any substantive reasons or disclosing the basis for its decision.
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