Karnataka High Court issues guidelines for medical termination of pregnancy for rape victims

The court also directed the state government to form an expert committee to formulate guidelines on the steps to be followed in MTP cases.

ByBellie Thomas

Published Dec 14, 2023 | 7:49 PMUpdatedDec 14, 2023 | 7:50 PM

Court - Representational Pic

The Karnataka High Court has directed the state government to form an expert committee to formulate guidelines on the steps to be followed in cases of continuation of pregnancy or abortion — medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) — of a rape victim or a girl or a woman when she conceives.

The court was hearing a petition filed by a man whose 17-year-old daughter — a sexual-assault survivor — was pregnant with a 24-week-old foetus. He sought the court to grant orders for medical termination of pregnancy.

Following the hearing, the bench — headed by Justice Suraj Govindaraj — directed doctors at the Vani Vilas Women’s and Children Hospital in Bengaluru to go ahead with the termination of the pregnancy of the 24-week-old foetus of the petitioner’s daughter.

Also read: Why a 26-week pregnancy case is a national concern

The case

While allowing the rape victim to terminate her pregnancy that was in the 24th week, the court issued directions that the jurisdictional police involved in the case inform victims of the options available for termination of pregnancy so that they do not have to approach courts at a belated stage of pregnancy.

The 17-year-old survivor’s father approached the HC seeking MTP for her even as the trial was ongoing.

The minor girl was the survivor of a crime under Section 376 (rape) of the Indian Penal Code and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.

As a result of the crime, she conceived and is currently 24 weeks pregnant. The petition by the survivor’s father claimed that the victim did not want to continue with the pregnancy and sought medical termination.

Justice Suraj Govindaraj, who heard the petition in his order on 11 December, said: “Such a situation would not have arisen if at all such a decision had been taken earlier. Then there would have been no requirement for the petitioner to approach this court.”

The court then directed the principal secretary of the state home department to issue necessary directions to all jurisdictional and/or investigating officers “to make known the availability of an option of medical termination of pregnancy, the procedure and process required to be followed for the same if the victim and/or natural guardian so desires”.

The investigating officer should also keep ready a member or a representative of the jurisdictional Child Welfare Committee (CWC) or the District Child Protection Unit, the court observed.

The court had also directed a medical board consisting of a gynaecologist, a paediatrician, and a psychologist to give an opinion on not only the physical health of the victim but also their mental well-being if she was to undergo a medical termination of pregnancy.

The report was submitted on 12 December, and the high court then allowed the MTP to be carried out.

The HC also ordered that after the MTP, the tissue samples of the foetus be preserved for the purpose of DNA analysis if required or ordered by the trial court in the POCSO case.

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The guidelines

The high court’s guidelines on MTP of victims of sexual assaults are as follows:

  1. Immediately on registration of a sexual offence under Section 376 of IPC or the POCSO Act, a medical examination of the victim be made to ascertain amongst others if she is pregnant or not, if so the gestation period to be ascertained, the physical and mental status of the victim, the ability to undergo the medical termination of the pregnancy, any aggravating factors and/or factors which will impinge upon the health and wellbeing of the victim.
  2. In the event the victim is found to be pregnant, the Child Welfare Committee and/or District Child Protection Unit, as the case may be, is directed to be informed of the same by the Investigation officer, who in turn is directed to counsel/advice the victim and her family members of the legal options which are available like the continuance of the pregnancy and consequences thereof, the termination of the pregnancy, the process, procedure and consequences thereof etc.
  3. Such counselling is to be carried out in a language known to the victim, if necessary, by making use of suitable translators. All questions asked by the victim and her family members are to be answered in a language known and understood by them so that there is no miscommunication.
  4. In the event of Medical Termination of Pregnancy being carried out the tissue samples of the fetus to be sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for DNA analysis, if possible, to preserve additional samples for verification if required.
  5. Follow-up checks to be done to ascertain the physical and mental well-being of the victim.
  6. The Director General of Police along with the Health Department principal secretary to be prepared a detailed Standard operating procedure by constituting such committee of experts as they deem fit, in respect of the above and circulate it amongst all investigating officers, Child Welfare Committees, District Child Protection Units, government hospitals, as also to make available training in this regard to all concerned.
  7. The Legal services authority to take into account the surrounding factors and release such compensation as permissible to the victim and her family for her immediate requirements.