Saturday, August 09, 2008

To Abort or Not to: A Win-Win Situation

The nationwide debate on abortion has rather intensified after the Mumbai High Court's dismissal of Niketa and Haresh Mehtas' plea to terminate a pregnancy to prevent birth of a disabled child. The case has split opinions from two sects: pro-life versus pro-quality-of-life.

Though it was everywhere on the news, a brief about the case for the uninitiated: the Mehtas learnt after their second sonography and echocardiography that the foetus she was carrying for 22 weeks has two abnormalities in the heart and malpositioned arteries, which would require a pacemaker soon after birth and the entire life of the child. Sensing life-long trauma and probable handicaps and shortcomings for the unborn baby, the expectant parents decided to move court to seek permission to abort. However, the Mumbai High Court refused to allow Niketa to abort her 26-week foetus following a second report from JJ Hospital, which had modified "fair" chances of the child having congenital disorders to "few" chances, claiming that to be a typo.

The court quashed the Mehtas' honest and brave act with a viewpoint that it would set a bad example. Isn't a worse example set now? No other parents who face a similar problem will now go the legal way. Mothers-to-be are getting more worried now, and are going for repeat sonographies and other obgyn consultations lest their wombs have foetuses with congenital diseases. The verdict of this case would surely increase the already high number of five million illegal abortions in India every year.

Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss said there was no need to change the MTP Act just for a one-off case. But exceptions could be made. Around a month ago, the Romanian government permitted abortion to an 11-year old girl due the exceptional circumstances of her case(pregnancy as a result of rape by an uncle), even though she was 21-weeks pregnant and the Romanian abortion limit is 14 weeks. Abortion laws are much more lenient in India than many other nations as can be seen here and here, but we fail to make exceptions and set examples. Rather, we tend to stick to age-old laws and rule out any amendments, on the contrary claiming that if it has been working for so long, it should work now also.

This is a major failure on the part of our judicial system. They might have saved the law in this case but in the process opened gates for more cases of breaking the same law. The only concern that the lawmakers should have had is how to prevent people trying to legally abort female foetuses under the blanket of congenital diseases. That could have been dealt with deftly by stricter laws for other procedures like amniocentesis rather than outrightly dismissing a very valid case.

Sonogram at 26 weeks The unborn baby is already a hero, and is seeking attention and debate from all over. Pro-lifers like the Archbishop of Mumbai have proposed adoption of the child by his church. The CEO of Jaslok Hospital has offered to bear the complete cost of surgery and pacemakers. The Mehtas did the right thing, and they would now be happy to bring the child to this world. I see them rewarded in a way; this has brought their child already to the limelight. Godforbids the Mehtas' worst fears come true, the child will not suffer because of lack of medical care or finances; I am sure the best possible medical facilities developed by mankind would be readily available. And one day when the child grows up and learns to read and understand, and comes to know of this trial and the nationwide furore, pride for his parents would definitely be one of the feelings.

The Mehtas have been accused of not wanting their child. I don't think it is easy for any mother to think of aborting her baby. What the Mehtas do not want is a disabled child, who might have to face innumerable challenges throughout life. It is more for the baby than for them. They love the child so much they do not want to bring him out to face the atrocities of this cruel world. It takes a hell lot of courage and heart to do so. I hope their efforts do not go in vain and this case acts as an eye-opener and no other Mehta couple faces this.

As Bachi Karkaria puts it, the end of the case will not be the end of the debate. And that itself is a victory.

Image: 26-week old foetus, Courtesy:


Cuckoo said...

:-) Thanks for writing this.

Same thoughts as mine. :-)

They might have saved the law in this case but in the process opened gates for more cases of breaking the same law...Very true. Agreed completely.

And one day when the child grows up and learns to read and understand, and comes to know of this trial and the nationwide furore, pride for his parents would definitely be one of the feelings... Here I would like to say something as I have mentioned somewhere in my blog also. What if the child develops another view for his/her parents ? That of a hatred ? They didn't want the child and they had to keep it against their wishes. Right ?

Another one is about parents' feelings. When their child smiles, plays and does things in life that make them proud & gives them fulfillment, won't they shudder at having thought of killing him/her ? Won't they feel guilty about it ? I think this feeling will remain with them forever.

Amiya Shrivastava said...

You are very correct! I agree completely with you!

Amiya Shrivastava said...

I think media plays an important role in bringing out melancholy from abyss (Heavy haan??). But it's true!

Also, it's true that whoever is lucky to have push himself/herself into the media's attention, though not intentionally, becomes better served.

But media is also straightjacketed and is not strong and resourceful enough to depict woes of millions of us, no bandwidth, no TV time; resources are limited and tomorrow if other 100s come into picture then how many of them will be promised a better life?

Are we being biased if we are not treating them good enough? Media attention is a different thing but every damn thing settles down to one basic question- Are we strong enough to provide each of us with a better life?

It will certainly require a better management and decadelong efforts to make india a paradise, else , whoever shouts before the camera will be the winner.

ashes said...


Thanks. :)

Re the child's feelings, I too was afraid of negative feelings getting developed for the parents. However, I later realized that as you and I feel he should be proud of his parents' daring act, and the parents feel the same too, the child too will agree to it sometime later in life when he'd be mature enough to understand it was for his own good.

The parents would only be happy and proud to see their child; they might develop a guilt initially but time heals everything.

ashes said...


Yes, there is a distinct way the Indian society's evolution is being affected due to the media.

But I don't agree on Indian media being straightjacketed. When they can carry out multiple sting operations, and go into people's bedrooms, they can do everything. The only thing is their efforts need to be diversified. Today news channels overkill you with repeated overdose of the same news, and they have a lot of bandwidth and airtime. They need to cover a broader area, and divide resources to cover up larger number of cases.

But yes, if hundreds come up with the same issues, it would get banal and people would not pay attention, and it would not be worth it. The media tries though. I must applaud the news channels to cover every Prince that fell into a borehole, and not stop at the first Prince.

The more popular someone is, the more advantageous position he is in. If an common man can gain nationwide limelight, he would definitely be noticed and his problems and concerns attended to. But I don't know which side to argue from now: is it wrong for the sharp commoner who does so, or is it wrong for the lazy one who sits and tries doing things the old-fashioned way?

Amiya Shrivastava said...

Do you agree that this problem can be there with hundreds others?

If yes? then how will you suggest to solve it holistically?

ashes said...


I agree that this problem would be there with thousands of other expecting parents. We need a couple of more Mehtas to challenge the court and the state would be bound to amend the laws.

As of now, there would be many who would not have any qualms NOT trusting the law and making their own decisions in similar cases.

KT said...

Ok.... gng by ur classifications I seem to fall in pro-quality of life group.

I can't quite understand how a court can tell some woman that we hereby force you to deliver the baby, even though u don't feel unsure that you want to bring it into this world.

Its a lot complex

1) Why has it been mandated that only more than 20 year old foetus has right to life.

2)Why should pregnancy termination call not be a personal choice. You could have counseling for them. Its akin to saying no divorce after 5 yrs of marriage!! You could argue that it could be mis-used say for female foeticide. But then you could have appointed boards which could consider such requests.

3) As far as fears of flood gate being opened, I would say its a classic quote which says ignorance is bliss but we seek knowledge.

Yeah, the child is a mini-celebrity he has all the help (financial, medical and otherwise) at this doorstep, but how would he feel about it if you leave him alone.

So when he watches other kids play, get dirty and have "fun", he would be mandated a yearly schedule of pacemaker change and other discipline to be followed. And that's not what I'd call life lived or enjoyed.

Ah just for thought, do you think it may qualify for involuntary euthanasia or euthanasia by proxy!!

ashes said...


It is indeed very complex. However, answers to your questions:

1. The reasons determining the age of a foetus before it can be legally aborted are more ethical than scientific. That explains different age limits in different countries too. If you read this document about different types of abortion you would find almost all means quite cruel, the latter it is, the more barbaric it is.

2. Termination of pregnancy cannot be a personal choice again because there is a school of thought that believes foetuses have life right after they are conceived. They call it murder, and there is a huge number of people who do so, including the Church. There are foetal rights, and the US even has an Unborn Victims of Violence Act.

3. You misinterpreted the floodgates. I meant, the HC denying the Mehtas the permission to abort would discourage people from seeking legal advice in such cases and encourage them to follow the easier way of illegal abortion. So the law they did not want to amend for one case would now be broken in several cases.

4. That is what my point was. The child might not have everything that a normal child would have, by virtue of being a mini-celebrity, he would have several advantages normal children won't have. (Yeah, I sound like a devil's advocate here).

You know, I was comparing euthanasia and abortion while writing, and feel this case can be qualified as euthanasia, though by doing so, we are weakening our case as euthanasia is illegal throughout the world except in Albania, Australia, Belgium, Netherlands, and Switzerland.

In fact, abortion being equivalent to euthanasia is a very strong argument by pro-lifers.

Anadi Misra said...

I am pro-abortion/pro-choice...the sanctity of life in anycase is over-rated..."devout" countries who won't favor abortion kill 100s of thousands in useless wars for greed and political ambition and then cry foul when someone wants to abort a baby...

I just don't get the hypocrisy... so they will not let you kill in the womb, but when you get out of it...its no holds barred...

Also, think about the family...they will spend 1000s on his medical bills, always be stressed about it and then one day he might die...leaving them in rather than have 10 miserable years (for the 4-5 family mebers), let there be an abortion...

Ofcourse it should be regulated so that its not mis-used...but I hate the idea of a society forcing its fake morals on individuals...

But yeah, ALL our laws need to be updated...We still have so many from 1800s

PS: Why did you think I would have to google for this one? This was all over the news! Or did you mean your 2nd post?

Anu said...

Yes all the things are correct but i really wonder what drove Mehtas to the court. Was it for the sake of publicity ? Because i am sure they might also be aware of hundreds of illegal methods available. In a country where abortion is a common thing legally or illegally Mehtas were smart enough to get all the lime light and now even financial assistance for their chid.

Indigo said...

I am pro-quality of life.

I do not think the help from society and everyone else that you expect to be helpful, and certain others think was the reason for this publicity by the Mehtas, will actually materialize. The public has a really short-term memory and by the time Mrs Mehta delivers, people would forget her.

ashes said...


Yes, the family and the child would suffer, and the law is forcing them to suffer by not allowing them to abort.

I do not know why laws are not updated here. Once established, a law remains etched in stone...we should have proactive measures to amend the laws according to the need of the day.

I never wanted you to google for this one, nor for the other one--Google Whacking you are talking about? I've tried explaining what the whack is in my first post about whacking: Triskaidekaphobic Dancegoers. You might need that info for the second post on whacking: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture.

ashes said...


Well, a faith in the judicial system is what drove the Mehtas to court. They could have done it illegally, but they wanted to abide by the law, even when their faith was shattered later.

I don't think they did that for publicity or financial assistance. They believed the court would amend the laws, or make exceptions, as the Romanian Govt did, and let them abort, after which they would not have required any assistance from anyone.

And come to think of it, what good does it do to them to be in the limelight? This could have been a publicity stunt for a public figure, like an actor or someone, to increase the number of their fans. But for someone with no fanfare at all,I don't see a reason for such a connived stunt.

ashes said...


That was one line of thought I had while writing. I know of the junta's short-lived memory and was worried about it. But then realized there would be some people who would care to remember, some who would be closely associated with the case. And then there is the media who does excellent work in waking people up and refreshing their memories; in fact, they sort of etch some things into people's memories by repeating the stories to the extent of satiation.

Anu said...

It did not any good to them but for some strange reason people these days are doing such things to get into light. News channels even cover all these things. And an actor or actress need not do it they are already a known figure, its the common man who needs all these things to be recognized.

ashes said...


The fact that the Mehtas are happy after Niketa has a miscarriage, and are no longer seeking media attention, rather shying away from it makes me strengthen my belief that it was not a publicity stunt.

How does just being known to a lot of people matter for a common man? For the stars, it increases their viewership and correspondingly their worth if more and more people know them. News channels cover these things, and as I wrote in the post as well, I think they did the right job this time.

The point is not this single case; it is about the entire judiciary system, a change in antique laws, exceptions to be made in specific cases.

Anyways, there is no point arguing now now that she's already miscarried. The entire episode would leave a few painful memories for the Mehtas, and as Indigo rightly put in the comment above, public memory is rather short-lived. The Mehtas would be forgotten in less than two weeks...

Rolling said...

In this country of ours, in ancient times, more 'civilized' perhaps in terms of the rights and responsibilities citizens enjoyed, they practised "Ichhyamrityu". All men and women that belonged to a certain strata of society enjoyed this gift and seems as a matter of right. Literature usually talks about that which is 'prevalent' in a given time, so Ichhyamrityu may have been a reality.

In this context, why should Indians bother with draconian laws regarding Euthanasia or Auto-Destruct by intelligent, healthy, contributing citizens?

Euthanasia is death administered by a third person to a 'victim' of incurable pain or in a permanent state of dis-ease. Here the person is receiving death and ofetn may not be in sound menatl or physical condition to know what he or she is asking for. He/She is driven by pain and agony and fear. So there is a chance that if that condition were corrected he/she might want to revoke termination decision.

Whereas, abortion decision by a Mother who has to bear the child and responsibilities for its well being, and Ichhyamrityu are voluntary decisions by conscious, healthy, intelligent adult individuals whose cognitive facukties are NOT impaired in any way.

It is a matter of informed CHOICE towards ensuring quality-life. I wish to this-this-this with my life and then I wish to die like this.I wish to plan that as well so I can better use the total time till that time and better use it and cut uncertainties and monitor an important occurence in my own life.

One should be able to exercise this as a matter of RIGHT. Nai? What do you think? I did write about this in my blog too this time - its kinda haunting me these days...

ashes said...


That's an interest analogy you've drawn between euthanasia and abortion. Ichchhamrityu is different, but then the foetus is not in a position to decide on its own fate. The foetus is completely oblivious of this cruel world and its procedures. It doesn't even know to breathe and feed itself. When all other decisions on its behalf are taken by the mother, why not abortion?

BTW, Ichchhamrityu is still practised, and in many countries. I have a friend in Switzerland whose mother just did that you herself a few months ago. She simply quit eating, and then water, wouldn't take any medical help, and then passed away in around 10 days. She was 98.

I went through your post on the same and would comment about it there.

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