The Punjab and Haryana High Court has permitted a woman to medically terminate her 25-week pregnancy due to a congenital defect in the foetus, The Indian Express reported on Tuesday. It observed that courts, while trying to provide justice, must not function in a “narrow straitjacket manner”, and must have a broader perspective of “human sufferings”.

The Punjab and Haryana High Court was hearing a petition by a couple from Chandigarh. They had sought to terminate the pregnancy as the medical examination of the foetus showed that there was “hydrocephalus with lumbo sacral spina bifida and meningomyelocoele with muld polyhydraminos”. This implied that the child would not be healthy if born.

The High Court had ordered the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh to examine the case. In its report, the institute said the woman may undergo an abortion in view of the “severe congenital developmental abnormality with features consistent with neural tube defect Arnold Chiari malformation Type-2 in the foetus”.

Justice Fatehdeep Singh observed that the woman is an adult and in a sound state of mind and that the medical board had said it was possible to terminate the pregnancy with an ultrasound-guided injection of potassium chloride.

“The courts in their endeavour to do justice need not function in a narrow strait jacket manner and need to have larger perspective of the human sufferings, bonds and desires and thereby ensure that a legal and legitimate relief to the party is not denied on religious dogmas and societal misbeliefs,” Justice Singh said.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act bars termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks. Beyond this period, the termination of pregnancies is decided by the courts and usually allowed only if it is a matter of safeguarding the pregnant woman’s life. A bill to extend the upper limit for abortions from 20 to 24 weeks was introduced in the Lok Sabha in March. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill, 2020, was approved by the Union Cabinet in January to ensure safe termination of pregnancies and give women reproductive rights over their bodies.