Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child’s Rights

Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child's Rights
Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child's Rights
Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child's Rights
Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child's Rights

Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child’s Rights

Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child’s Rights

Supreme Court Grapples With Balancing Unborn Child’s Rights

A woman’s plea to terminate her 26-week pregnancy has presented a challenging dilemma to the Supreme Court: balancing the rights of an unborn child against a mother’s bodily autonomy. The two-judge bench provided a split verdict on the center’s request to revoke permission for the abortion. Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud emphasized the need to “balance the rights of the unborn child,” stressing that the child has no representation in the courtroom. He acknowledged the mother’s autonomy but questioned, “How do we balance the rights of the child?” while emphasizing that it’s not merely a fetus but a living, viable one that could survive outside the womb.

Court’s Strong Observations and Controversial Recall Request

Following the two judges’ split verdict, a three-judge bench led by the Chief Justice of India raised important questions, including whether the petitioner wanted the court to issue an order for the child’s death. The married woman, a mother of two, expressed her inability to emotionally or financially support a third child due to her depression. On October 9, the Supreme Court initially granted her permission for an abortion. Subsequently, the center sought to recall this order based on the advice of AIIMS Delhi doctors, who opposed the abortion, citing signs of life in the fetus.

Divergent Views Within the Bench

Justice Hima Kohli expressed concern about the notion of a court ordering the cessation of a fetus’s heartbeat, while Justice BV Nagarathna argued that the woman’s decision should be respected. She believed that the woman’s interests should take precedence. The court contemplated allowing the child to be born and then having the government care for it. The court urged the woman to consider waiting for a few more weeks for a normal delivery, as a hasty delivery might result in fetal deformities.

Complex Socioeconomic Factors

The woman’s counsel pointed out her poverty and limited education, but the bench remained unconvinced. Justice JB Pardiwala emphasized that the fetus would fare better in the womb, emphasizing the natural progression of pregnancy. The Chief Justice inquired about the relevance of the woman’s marital status. The center’s representative underscored the petitioner’s dissimilarity to a rape survivor, adding to the complexity of the case.

Next Steps

The court has now instructed the woman’s counsel and the center’s representative to confer with the petitioner before the next hearing, prompting further deliberation on this challenging ethical and legal conundrum.

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