The Supreme Court on Friday said that the legal permissible period for allowing a pregnant woman to abort a foetus must be stretched to allow abortion of terminally ill foetuses, The Times of India reported on Friday.

Section 3 of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, or MTP Act, currently states that a pregnancy cannot be terminated after 20 weeks. A Kolkata-based woman, seeking the apex court’s permission to abort her 24-week-old foetus which has a congenital defect, had recently challenged the validity of the MTP Act in the top judiciary.

A vacation bench of Justices D Y Chadrachud and Sanjay Kishan Kaul agreed to hear the woman’s plea and directed a medical board of seven doctors of the SSKM Hospital in Kolkata to evaluate her health. The bench asked the board to submit a report by June 29 after ascertaining the health of the mother and the foetus, PTI reported.

The bench also noted a report of a doctor, which said that a child born with such serious abnormalities may not survive even its first surgery.

Sarmishtha Chakraborty had recently filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking permission to abort her 24-week-old foetus, which has a congenital defect, and which could be fatal to her health. The illness was detected on May 25 when the foetus was more than 20 weeks old, and was confirmed a week later, she had said.

The apex court had on Tuesday sought responses from the Centre and the West Bengal government to the petition filed by the woman. It had asked the state government to suggest a panel of doctors from government hospitals in Kolkata who could examine the health of the woman and her foetus at short notice. It had also asked for a report on whether ending her pregnancy would be advisable.

“Having due regard to the urgency of the matter and since the petitioners are seeking the appointment of a panel of doctors at a government hospital in Kolkata to examine the state of health of the first petitioner as well as of the foetus, we deem it appropriate that the matter be listed on June 23, 2017,” it had said.

MTP Act amendment

A 2014 draft amendment to the MTP law proposes extending the legally permissible period to terminate a pregnancy to 24 weeks is still pending. Many women have been forced to move the Supreme Court for permission to end their pregnancies that are beyond the legal limit of 20 weeks, after the delay in the MTP Act amendment.

The amendment will provide women a wider window to abort terminally ill foetuses or if there is a risk to the mental or physical health of the pregnant woman. The Supreme Court has dealt with several requests similar to that of the petitioner in the past five years. The apex court has ruled in favour of most women with abnormalities in their over 20-week pregnancies.