A Public Interest Litigation has been filed before Delhi High Court seeking directions to the Government to pass appropriate orders to ensure that no pregnant woman is denied or discriminated against, in accessing essential health services and to take action against hospitals that refuse access and/or admission to pregnant women seeking essential health services.
The petition has been filed by SAMA is a Delhi based resource group working on the issues of women’s health and rights, including in the field of sexual and reproductive health rights for two decades. Sama was registered in 1999 as a Public Charitable Trust under the Indian Trusts Act (1872). The Sama Board comprises members with expertise in public health, medicine (Gynaecology and Obstetrics), economics, reproductive and sexual health, occupational health issues, nutrition, bioethics, livelihoods and alternative systems of medicine.
The petition states that the Petitioner has made a written representation dated 18th April, 2020, to the Central Government as well as Delhi Government, bringing to their notice, the denial of health care, and more particularly the denial of delivery / childbirth services to pregnant women, and the barriers in accessing the same, that are being faced by pregnant women and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent lockdown.
Due to the dynamic nature of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and due to circumstances inherent in public health emergencies, specific and localised guidelines and directions are required to ensure meaningful access to essential health services to pregnant women and for neonatal care. Despite various directions issued by the government, experience from the ground shows that pregnant women continue to face many hardships and in view of the impediments in accessing right to comprehensive reproductive health care and neonatal care during the lockdown, said the petition.
The petitioner has preferred the petition on the ground that directions are needed to safeguard and protect the Right to Life under Article 21 of the Constitution of all women residing in the National Capital Territory of Delhi that may at any time be in need of emergency medical care and attention for their reproductive health. And, the absence of specific provisions for enabling access of pregnant women during COVID-19 amounts to discrimination under Article 15 of the Constitution, and is also a violation of the principle of equal protection envisaged by Article 14 of the Constitution. The restrictions imposed due to the lockdown disproportionately impact pregnant women, as their reproductive rights are infringed.
The petition is filed by activist and Advocates Vrinda Grover, Ratna Appnender, Soutik Banerjee and seeks following reliefs:-
- Directions to Government directing them to ensure that in every COVID-19 hotspot or “Red Zone”, a Nodal Officer is appointed whose contact number(s) is publicly made available for accessing non COVID-19 related health services, including reproductive health and ensure provision of ambulances which are not ferrying COVID-19 patient.
- Directions to government directing them to institute dedicated help lines for women seeking non COVID19 essential health services during the lockdown and make the numbers publicly available.
- Directions to the Government to ensure that pregnant women requiring medical facilities are taken safely and at the earliest to the nearest non COVID-19 designated hospitals.
- Directions to the government directing them to ensure that private vehicles carrying pregnant women are allowed to move freely and there should be no insistence on securing a Movement Pass for that purpose.
- Directions to the Government directing them to place a cap on the price/fees charged for medical services rendered by private hospitals / health facilities, relating to childbirth, maternity, neonatal care and abortion services for the duration of COVID-19 restrictions / lockdown.
-India Legal Bureau