Pregnant Pause

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Keeping a child born out of rape is not an easy decision. The state must give all support to such victims

By Kaushik Joshi


W hile rape is traumatic, it becomes doubly worse when it results in a pregnancy and that too, an advanced one which can’t be terminated. A piquant situation arose this year when a 23-year-old mother of two, who was gang-raped, wanted to terminate her 28-week pregnancy. It was rejected by a single-judge bench of Justice Pardiwala of the Gujarat High Court on April 16, who asked the victim “to bravely go ahead with the pregnancy and when the time comes, she should deliver the child”.

The victim was allegedly abducted by seven men while she was sweeping outside her house in Surat and kept in confinement bet-ween July 13, 2014 and March 14, 2015. One day, when she got the opportunity, she fled. But by the time she lodged an FIR, she was 24 weeks pregnant. The victim then approached the principal civil judge of Dhandhuka for termination of her pregnancy, but it was rejected. She then approached Gujarat High Court, which rejected the applicant’s plea for abortion, citing Section 3 of the Medical Termina-tion of Pregnancy Act (MTPA), 1971.

WHEN TO TERMINATE

Section 3 of the MTPA states that a pregnancy may be terminated by a registered medical practitioner

(a) where the length of the pregnancy does not exceed 12 weeks or

(b) where the length of the pregnancy exceeds 12 weeks but does not exceed 20 weeks, if not less than two registered medical practitioners are of opinion, formed in good faith, that

(i) the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or

(ii) there is a substantial risk that if the child were born, it would suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped.
Rape cases would be included in such provisions as these are likely to cause anguish and could lead to grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman. However, not all pregnancies can be terminated. In the present case, the court did not allow termination observing that if labor is induced for abortion, there is every possibility it would result in a live birth as the fetus was 28-weeks old.

Justice Pardiwala said “… howsoever harsh one may find the law, one has to respect it. She must understand that termination at this stage will put her own life in peril.” Following the judgment, the victim said she would honor the directive of the court.

This grave risk to such mothers was corroborated by Dr Hasmukh Agarwal, an Ahme-dabad-based gynaecologist, who said: “Abor-ting the fetus at a later stage involves great
surgical risk. It could cause excessive bleeding, endangering the life of a woman.”

STATE’S RESPONSIBILITY

Mitesh Amin, the public prosecutor who appeared for the state, submitted before the court that the state would take care of the applicant for the delivery of the child and if she was disowned by her husband and family, the state would provide her adequate shelter and protection.

It is a fact that victims of rape feel traumatized and suffer from disturbance in sleeping and eating patterns. Renana Jhabvala, national co-ordinator, Self-employed Women’s Asso-ciation (SEWA) and Chair, SEWA Bharat, says: “Apart from the trauma and the pain associated with rape, the greatest difficulty is the shame and stigma that the victim has to endure. Many believe that a woman once raped, is shamed for life and must live almost out of society.”

This attitude has to change considering that in 2011, 24,206 rape cases were registered in India and there was a new rape case reported every 22 minutes.

SUPPORT WOMEN

Renana wants the court to be more supportive of the woman by censuring her husband if he deserts her. “A person can be brave only if authorities support her. If the husband’s family does not accept the girl, both the husband and his family should be severely censured by the court. The court should impose a heavy fine on the family if they reject her,” she says.

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(Left)Ahmedabad’s Women’s Action Group Secretary Sara Badliwala ,(Right) SEWA’s national coordinator Renana Jhabvala

Would harsher punishment lead to fewer crimes? Sara Baldiwala, secretary, Ahmedabad Women’s Action Group, says; “It’s not harsher punishment but better and speedy implementation of the law that we expect. The police should catch the culprits without losing time. In cases like rape, maximum punishment should be awarded. Also, when a rape victim comes to us seeking abortion, we don’t find it worthwhile to go to government dispensaries because there is no secrecy. Private clinics charge higher fees. There should be a special cell for such cases in the government hospitals.”
Sadly, sexual violence is one of the most under-reported crimes all over the world and it will remain so till society changes its views about rape victims.

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