07/21/2009, 00.00
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Court overturns ruling ordering abortion on 19-year-old mentally challenged and orphaned woman

The woman was raped by two security guards working in the government-run shelter where she was living. She is in her 20th week of pregnancy. Punjab and Haryana High Court ordered the termination of her pregnancy, arguing she could not raise the child and would treat him as a “toy”. The young woman said she wanted to have the baby.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India’s Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Punjab and Haryana High Court which directed the Chandigarh Administration to “promptly and forthwith” medically terminate the pregnancy of a 19-year-old mentally challenged girl who was raped at a government-run shelter for disabled women (Nari Niketan) in Chandigarh a few months ago. The woman had expressed a desire to give birth to the child.  

Last Friday the lower court decided that the “victim is neither intellectually nor on social, personal, financial or family fronts able to raise a child,” and she would have treated the child like a “toy”. It also found that “if allowed to be born, [. . .] the child would [. . .] be at the mercy of the government-run/aided institutions” with few prospects for the future.

Initially the Supreme Court was not going to intervene in a decision by the lower court, but changed its mind after representation by the woman’s lawyer, Tanu Bedi.

In his submission he pointed out that maternity is a right and that the young woman was already 20 weeks pregnant and that termination could harm her health and further damage her mental state.

“If her mental age (she has the IQ of a 9-year-old according to expert testimony) was a consideration for the judiciary to think that she could not take care of her baby, why should poor women, who are found lacking in bringing up their children, be allowed to become mothers?”, he asked.

Contacted by AsiaNews, Mgr Agnelo Gracias, chairman of the Family Commission of the Conference of Catholic Bishops’ of India, noted that the case was complex but noted that the ruling by the Punjab and Haryana High Court left out too many elements.

The bishop criticised the judges for hastily concluding that “the child is merely a ‘toy’ that she want to play with,” ignoring her “desire to give birth to the child”.

What is more, as far as the prelate is concerned the “child is innocent,” so even if “what the judge says about the victim” is true, why should abortion be the only solution.

Likewise the child need not be a burden for the state, especially a government-run shelter like the one where the woman was raped.

“There are individuals and institutions, like Mother Teresa’s Homes, ready to care for and bring up the child in love,” Bishop Gracias said.

For Pascoal Carvalho, an Indian doctor and a member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, the woman’s individual rights were grossly violated and this “in the name of human dignity.”

The paradox is that the court “ordered the termination of the pregnancy” instead of recognising that the mentally disabled woman was “not protected in the government-run home”.

For the member of the pontifical institution, were an escalation of bad choices. “Rape,” he said, “is a serious crime against women and the rape of a mentally challenged child is a heinous crime”. But “abortion is a grave attack on the most defenceless life and can in no way be justified. (NC)

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