“A woman has a sacrosanct right to her bodily integrity and it’s her choice.” Believe it or not, these are the words of the Supreme Court while passing a judgement allowing a West Bengal woman named Sharmishta to abort her 24-week-old fetus with grave cardiac abnormalities. The News Minute reports that the Court said she had the right to choose whether or not she should have a child.
Sarmishta approached the Court when she was 23 weeks pregnant. Currently, the law only allows abortions up to 20 weeks.
The Court took in a variety of factors while deciding this case. It referred to a report prepared by a medical board which looked into her case, and observed that taking the pregnancy to term could prove fatal to the mother, and that the child would have fatal abnormalities that would require numerous, repeated heart surgeries, if born at all. It also observed that Sharmishta would suffer “severe mental injury” if she continued the pregnancy. In her plea, she claimed that she had already suffered immense mental and physical anguish because of the law not permitting abortion past 20 weeks.
Except the number of factors this judgement hinged on, such as the expectation that the child would be born with abnormalities and the trauma the mother would go through if the child was born, makes you wonder if the law really does hold a woman’s right to her bodily integrity truly sacrosanct. Just a few months ago, in March, the Supreme Court denied a 26 weeks pregnant Maharashtra woman permission to abort her fetus with Down’s syndrome, citing that there was no threat to mother’s health (although it did observe orally that it was “very sad for a mother to bring up a mentally retarded child”).
Still, specifying that a woman has the sacrosanct right over her bodily integrity is a great precedent for the Supreme Court to set, and we can only hope that it’s used frequently and creatively henceforth.