Abortion and the Niketa Mehta case

Like everyone else, I have been reading about the Niketa Mehta case and feeling quite disturbed about it. I also read a few blogs with different opinions on the topic (Mad Momma, Soumya, Maami, Prerna).

The background – Niketa Mehta approached an Indian court for permission to abort her 26 week old foetus which has a congenital heart defect. The Court did not permit the abortion.

To start with, let me summarize everyone’s arguments for and against abortion in this case.

The arguments for aborting the 26 week foetus:

1. The foetus has a congenital heart defect that would require a permanent pace maker. This may or may not disable the child for life depending on which version of the same hospital’s report you believe.

2. The treatment for the disease is expensive. The pacemaker costs Rs 1 lakh and would have to be changed every 5 years.

3. The child would have to undergo some amount of suffering throughout life. This will also cause mental anguish to the parents.

The arguments against abortion in this case are:

1. As per current Indian law, abortions are only legal as long as the foetus is less than 20 weeks.

2. The foetus at 26 weeks can feel pain. It needs to be aborted through partial birth abortion, which is a very painful procedure (for the foetus).

3. People with congenital heart disease and pacemakers don’t really suffer or are disabled, says a 35 year old man in India with a pacemaker since age 9.

4. Performing an abortion at this stage may even pose a risk to the mother’s life.

5. The judges offered to have the government pay for the foetus’s lifetime expenses for the pacemaker. The plaintiffs rejected the offer, saying they did not trust the Government. They seemed to fear that the Government would not deliver on its promise.

6. Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai has offered to bear the entire expenses for the delivery and post-natal care of the baby. It is not clear if the offer is for the baby’s entire life, though.

There are two issues here:

1. The specifics of this case.

2. The overarching issue of whether a woman should have a right to abort her foetus if she so chooses at any time during her pregnancy, irrespective of whether the foetus has any defects or not.

The specific case of Niketa Mehta: If you look at the specifics of this case, it looks like the foetus has a choice between a painful death before birth and a perhaps somewhat painful but certainly expensive life. If the experience of the 35 year old man above is anything to go by, the child may even lead a full life despite the pacemaker.

There are people willing to pay the expenses of the child, and there are always such a thing as fundraising, so the finance issue alone should not be a cause for aborting the foetus. Is a child’s life just worth much less than Rs. 1 lakh, then? If the parents are still not willing to bring up the child, they could always give it up for adoption. I am sure there would be many (Indian and foreign) parents willing to adopt the child, or donors willing to pay for its medical expenses.

So if you look at the specifics of the case, I can see the logic behind the Court’s argument. But are they right to stop Niketa from aborting?

Let’s look at the bigger picture here.

The issue of a woman’s right to abort at any stage of the pregnancy: Then there is the issue of whether a woman should have the right to abort a foetus at any stage of the pregnancy, i.e. even if the foetus is more than 20 weeks into development. Currently, the law in India allows abortion when the foetus is below 20 weeks into development.

Twenty weeks is a long time to cover a situation where the parents are not ready for a pregnancy. It will cover teenage pregnancies, unplanned pregnancies where the parents decide they are not financially or emotionally ready. This is also the time when the foetus cannot yet feel pain.

I admire the fact that Indian laws are pro-abortion and give people a choice, and a long window to exercise that choice. In the US, the laws are highly restrictive, and on-the-ground implementation is even worse.

Twenty weeks is a long time. But twenty weeks is not enough to cover the scenario where the foetus has medical defects. Too often, defects show up much after the 20 week mark. The question then arises, if the foetus has medical defects and the woman wants to terminate the pregnancy after 20 weeks, should she be allowed to do so?

Here are the issues to consider:

The commonly raised issues:

1. The risk to the mother: Abortions after 26 weeks pose a medical risk to the mother. But then, pregnancy itself, even with a normal foetus, can pose medical risks for the mother. Then comes delivery. Normal delivery is quite painful, and Caesarian delivery is also not without its aftereffects and pain.

So the risk to the mother can exist in any case, and the risk of a late abortion is only one of the risks in the mother’s palette. Surely, as a rational adult she should be able to decide which of the risks she would rather take?

2. The issue of pain: Yes, abortion after 26 weeks is painful to the foetus. But the mother also suffers a lot of pain during this entire process. If she chooses to abort, she suffers a lot of emotional pain (and some physical pain). But even if she doesn’t abort, pregnancy and childbirth are quite painful too.

So what are we comparing – a foetus’s pain during abortion versus a mother’s pain during childbirth? Are we saying one is acceptable, but the other is not?

Are we forcing the mother to experience the pain of childbirth to spare the foetus the pain of abortion?

Let’s face it, the pain aspect is applicable to both parties, and is best left out of the picture.

The real questions to ask:

1. Who is more important, the mother or the foetus? The crux is, can we force a mother to

(i) carry an unwanted foetus to term, with possible medical complications to the mother during delivery or childbirth,

(ii) endure postpartum blues, and

(iii) post-birth, force her to care for an infant that she does not want,

all this just because we believe the foetus is a living creature and is therefore considered a citizen?

Let’s assume the foetus should be considered a fine and upstanding citizen. What about the mother then, an adult productive member of society? Whose rights are greater?

A mother makes an enormous investment in a pregnancy. She can suffer complications that last life-long (like osteoporosis), or during the pregnancy (like diabetes and hypertension). So there is a real physical cost to the mother. Let’s not even get into the aspect of risks during childbirth and complications there.

So do we ride roughshod on the mother’s rights and wishes and force her to act in a way against her interests and her desires, at a cost to her body, because “we” place a higher value on the baby’s life than the possible risks to the mother? What kind of rationale is that?

2. If the foetus is an independent entity and an individual, can this individual live outside the mother? No, of course not. Foetuses born prematurely, i.e. before 37 weeks, may suffer complications even if treated in pre-natal intensive care. Absent pre-natal care, they cannot survive as their organs aren’t developed yet.

If we continue to take the position that the foetus is an independent legal entity (even though it cannot survive independent of its mother), then extending that argument, by requiring a mother to complete her pregnancy for a foetus she doesn’t want, we are forcing her to provide prenatal care (using her own body) which is not of her own choice, and for which she is obviously not being compensated either. The question is, is that a fair and just law?

Think about it, the only other persons whom the State forces to work without compensation are prisoners.

3. The issue of individual rights versus common good:

The other issue here is that the State is also, in essence, controlling a part of the woman’s body itself. It is claiming that it has overarching authority to decide on a part of the woman’s body. This is the scariest part. Where do an individual’s rights begin and the State’s rights end?

If the woman delivers the baby and immediately gives it up to the State for adoption, what she has done, in a way, is to rent her womb to the State.

If the State can force a woman to use her uterus to carry a baby she does not want, where can this slippery slope lead to? Can we, then, see any of the following scenarios happen in the future?

1. Can prisoners (especially those imprisoned for life) be forced to donate blood or body organs (one kidney, portion of liver) to save the life of a patient in a government hospital?

2. Can women prisoners be forced to rent their wombs to act as surrogate mothers? Or can the State attempt to harvest eggs from prisoners?

These arguments may seem far-fetched right now. But I can see arguments beginning with “common good” being made for each of them. Argument #2, for instance, can be made in countries with low fertility rates and declining populations, while Argument #1 can be made anywhere.

My conclusion: Women are rational creatures. No woman wants to abandon a foetus unless there is some compelling reason for her to do so.

Given this logic, if a woman wants to abort her foetus, the State can reason with her, offer her financial incentives for keeping the baby, offer free medical support if there are complications and offer to help with adoption of the baby. The State can try to change the woman’s mind by addressing whatever issues the woman may have. If the foetus is viable, then the State can bear the expenses and medical care for delivering the baby and treatment for the premature baby.

But the State has no right to force a woman to put all her energy and her life-blood into bearing a baby that she is strongly against carrying to term. A woman should have the right to make the final decision on very part of her own body.

Post Update: With news reports of Niketa Mehta’s subsequent sad miscarriage, it appears that Nature had the final word, siding with the mother.


60 thoughts on “Abortion and the Niketa Mehta case

  1. Pingback: What’s a good time for you? « The Brat, the Bean and Bedlam

  2. What do we do when grown up adults develop heart problem, kill them? What do we do when we learn that so and so is in a risk zone, kill them before the risk matures??

    Lekhni: I agree that heart problems are not really serious enough grounds to abort a baby. As I said, I understand the Court’s logic. The State can reason with Niketa, it can address her concerns by offering financial incentives (say a Trust Fund), free medical care. The issue to me is not the heart problem, it is the principle – how can the State claim authority over a part of a woman’s body?
    Let’s be clear, if the foetus is not viable and cannot live even with treatment, then it is a part of the woman’s body.
    How can you and I, or the State decide on what’s right for a part of another woman’s body?
    Tell me, if a grown up adult has a heart problem, can we transplant his heart without his permission? Can we insert a pacemaker without his permission? Can we reach into his body and do anything without his permission?
    Why cannot a woman have the same right over her uterus ?

  3. >> If the State can force a woman to use her uterus to carry a baby she does not want, where can this slippery slope lead to?
    It leads to rules not allowing a person to end their life if they do so wish.

    Lekhni: I would say it’s more like not allowing organ transplants. Though, I am also quite in favor of people being allowed to end their life.

  4. how can the State claim authority over a part of a woman?s body?


    I am pro-choice, but it seems to me there’s no way one can design one set of laws to punish murder while allowing exceptions such as these. It’s either a murder or it isn’t. (Legally speaking, not morally speaking.)

    Lekhni: It can’t be murder if the individual in question doesn’t even have the capacity to breathe on its own, and certainly cannot survive for more than a few minutes as a separate entity.

    Extending your argument, should the State then prosecute all women who miscarry for murder and ask them to prove that none of their actions led to the miscarriage?

  5. I totally agree with you. I think it should left to a woman/couple to decide what they want to do.

    Lekhni: Exactly πŸ™‚ The rest of us really cannot impose our value judgements on the issue, though we can discuss all we want and write blog posts about it πŸ˜‰ The State can reason with the woman and offer solutions to her concerns, but in the end it’s really up to her.

  6. Lekhni:

    First I would repeat what I said over on Prerna’s blog: For everyone else – apart from this couple – the question is hypothetical. So we can converse all we like. They will still be the ones who bear the outcome in all its glory, whether they have over-assessed the risks and costs, or under-estimated them.

    Secondly, in medical terms, the foetus is considered viable and a ‘potential human being’ when the primitive streak appears which in humans is around the 14th day. Bioethics is one of the reasons why safe and timely abortion is even discussed as an issue. If it were as simple as the foetus somehow being a woman’s property by virtue of it being inside her body, we would have no debate on this issue. Besides, I think it was not immaculate conception, was it? Legally, fathers get almost no say in the matter, even when they are present (in this case, I assume the father is pro-termination as well). This is a bit unfair. So defining abortion as ‘murder’ is in murky legal waters, no matter which side of the pro-choice/ pro-life debate one is on.

    Thirdly, the implied societal questions are very far-reaching. Disability is seen as a major burden in India. Are parents of this child really guided by the discrimination the child may face? Or the economics? Or is there a thinly disguised ‘designer baby’ thing going on here? The courts are in a bind too – because the precedent is also far-reaching. Re-engineering of societal attitudes is not possible through the courts; it is only possible with time and with individuals changing themselves and influencing others to change. And that is just the attitudes to disability. There is an implicit message about health and the right to health, and the economics of it.

    India wants to be a great nation, play with the big boys and dominate the world. As they say “with great power, comes great responsibility”. Developed countries have been discussing these issues with no resolution, for years. Perhaps it is time for India and Indians to start reflecting, debating and most importantly, changing their attitudes and behaviours. No?

    Lekhni: I agree with you that the couple (or perhaps just the woman) is the only person to decide on this.

    I agree that abortion can also not be termed as murder, any way you look at it.

    As for the “designer baby” idea, well, again, that’s just our assumption and value judgement. The State can, and should, try to address the explicit concerns raised by Niketa, not assume anything else.

    At the end of the day, no one should compel a woman to bring up a baby that she does not want, for by doing so, we are not acting either in her interests, or even in the interests of the baby, for it will definitely feel the psychological impact of growing up unwanted.

  7. Even I felt it is best left as a woman’s prerogative. But Niketa is a matured and responsible woman. What about others?

    And please do read this too, Lekhni.

    Lekhni: By default, unless proved otherwise, I would assume that every woman can make a mature and responsible choice when it comes to her baby.
    I did read that post, even linked to it. I have edited my post to make the links more visible.

  8. I think your last line sums up my complete argument.
    Very well written.

    Lekhni: Thanks πŸ™‚ The last line is really the crux of my whole argument, so I am glad you understand where I am coming from!

  9. It can?t be murder if the individual in question doesn?t even have the capacity to breathe on its own, and certainly cannot survive for more than a few minutes as a separate entity.

    So you are agreeing that the 26-week foetus is an “individual”. Basically what you are saying is that a living individual, who because of the actions of the parents, is now no longer living and that its death should not be construed as murder?

    Extending your argument, should the State then prosecute all women who miscarry for murder and ask them to prove that none of their actions led to the miscarriage?

    Miscarriages, or spontaneous abortions, (usually) occur in the first 20 weeks. The law recognizes that fact. Also, the law cannot possibly monitor every pregnant woman, which is why they do not insist on proof that someone did not deliberately “miscarry”.

    Lekhni: Okay, I should have really said “individual”. And no, I don’t think you can call it murder when the foetus cannot even survive separate from its mother.
    On miscarriages, your point is only that the implementation is difficult. If it were somehow easy to monitor every woman (maybe if the State decides to keep records of all pregnant women and check if they have delivered), would you then say that miscarriages should be prosecuted?

  10. hello – here i am πŸ™‚ attempting to answer your questions
    1) why is adult productive more important than baby? is a paraplegic persons life less valuable than a normal person? not being productive at that stage isnt reason enough to kill someone.

    post partum blues – she’d have them either way if she is prone to them. whether the child is healthy or not.

    ALL pregnancies are at a cost to your body – its something u sign up for when u get pregnant. you cant back out of it because the baby is sick. if she goes for an abortion at this stage and is left with scar tissue that prevents her from conceiving again… shes in bigger trouble.

    2) this one made me smile sadly – mostly because i found it … err.. strange. childbirth is painful. all women who get pregnant go through it. they ask for that pain if they choose to get pregnant. the foetus doesnt ask to be born or to be in pain. labour pain or csec pain gives life. its justified. we all recover. the foetus hurts.. and dies. for no fault and by no choice of its own.. this point however i find pointless…

    3) this compensation one too – i dont know how to say this… nobody asked her to get pregnant. so looking for compensation is ridiculous. i dont agree with the argument that the baby is part of your body just because it is dependent on you. its equally dependent after birth.. to be fed and cared for. can u still kill it. for that matter premature births of 21 weeks have survived in incubators… so 26 weeks is also viable. its another entity.

    4) if you want to take the argument further abt a womans right over her body.. that is also the suicide argument right? suicide isnt legal yet. what if the woman decides to start injecting herself with deadly stuff… or generally harassing the baby with pins.. just to watch it jump – for fun! then? the court is there to take care of the rights of everyone. even those who cant speak or breathe without help. they didnt ask to be conceived – but now that they are – they have a right to life.. .. you cant conceive and abort at will… there have to be SOME guidelines. some laws.

    thanks for linking me babe…

    Lekhni: Thanks for the long comment πŸ™‚ I can see that you have put a lot of thought into this. I am really enjoying this debate.

    On your first point – no, I am not arguing that the foetus should be aborted because it’s less productive πŸ™‚ All I am saying is that the mother’s rights, interest and health should take precedence over the foetus’s.

    I also don’t agree that women “ask for pain” when they get pregnant or that they choose pain. Women choose pregnancy despite the pain. My point is, the woman is also suffering pain (physical and emotional) in every scenario – pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, miscarriage – so why do we focus on the foetus’s pain alone? Let’s take the pain argument out of the equation.

    As for the foetus not asking to be born, I cannot really comment on that – this goes into the area of philosophy. Hindu philosophy says that souls do have a say in even choosing which parents to be born to. But again, I am not going to get into philosophy.

    As for the foetus dying for no fault of its own, yes, that would happen even if the abortion were performed within 20 weeks, and that’s legal in India.

    I also hope that we both agree that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest. Then, as n! asks, aren’t all these arguments applicable to those foetuses (i.e. the ones conceived through rape/ incest)? Aren’t they also innocent? How can we have different rules for different foetuses?

    My last point – if a woman gets pregnant, does she not have the right to change her mind and say she does not want the baby? It is not a choice that any woman would make easily. If we can trust women to give birth and bring up children (our future citizens), can we not trust them to make decisions on not having a child?

  11. Lekhni: This link should interest you and your other readers.

    Lekhni: Thanks for the link. Yes, it provides additional proof that congenital heart disease is eminently treatable and Niketa should not have any worries on that score.

  12. Niketa’s own words and attitude after the court verdict is resigned to the decision. It’s strange that they decided to test the system and challenge the status quo in abortion law, considering that at 26 weeks, the foetus would be considered just a couple of weeks short of viability even if born prematurely.

    Lekhni: I would be resigned too, after a court battle in India 😦 (In fact, I would be resigned about the prospect of the case ever being heard in the first place πŸ˜‰ )

  13. I completely agree with you. The mother should be allowed to decide. (Why not the father? Because it’s the mother who bears the child and gives birth to it. Until the child is born, the father’s role is very limited: he is only the mother’s partner, not a parent yet.) I don’t want to get into what I would have done in that case. It is a tough situation. None of us have the right to impose our opinions on them. Having a child with special needs, nurturing her/him, watching her/him in frequent pain… it may seem to them the more merciful decision to terminate. Why should someone else judge for them?

    I am also inclined to think well of the couple because they went to court instead of to some shady clinic.

    Lekhni: I agree, I don’t see how I can sit in judgement of something that she alone can weigh the pros and cons of. Niketa alone will have to live with the consequences of whatever decision she takes 😦
    Yes, I am also very glad she didn’t go to a quack! I like the fact that she went to court, we do need a national debate in India about abortion.

  14. @ unmana – (sorry lekhni!) – my husband would take you on for that statement! the father’s role is limited until the child is born. not his rights. and its not by choice that his role is limited.

    also your use of the word terminate – it reminds me of pest control 😦 and that is the sad part. they are real living human beings. babies. our very own flesh. you can’t ‘terminate’ them so easily. even if niketa got her way – i am sure she’d live with the pain of having done it. medical terms like MTP just make murder seem more acceptable

  15. Since you linked to the guy who lives with a pacemaker and leads a pretty normal life after being diagnosed with a congenital heart disease, I just hope that this child has that chance too.

    Just because a child cannot breathe on its own doesn’t make it a lesser life. Children need care for much longer, even after they come out and breathe on their own.

    And babies are not appendages. When you sign up for motherhood, it includes the pain, agony and the joy. Everything that comes with it. This whole “I made it, it is imperfect, now I don’t want it” seems very callous to me. The child never wished to be, the woman wished for it. So “in sickness and in health” should be the mother’s commitment to the child.

    And thanks for the link πŸ™‚

    Lekhni: I sincerely hope this baby gets treated and goes on to lead a long and happy life with a pacemaker πŸ™‚

    I don’t think Niketa’s worry was that the child was imperfect. I am also not sure about how life comes about, do all women who wish for babies get them? What do we know about what babies (or souls) wish for anyway? As I said in my comment to the Mad Momma, that enters into the realm of philosophy, which I am not willing to enter πŸ™‚

  16. Pingback: Niketa Mehta | DesiPundit

  17. Very insightful post! I liked the conclusion – “A woman should have the right to make the final decision on very part of her own body.”
    My 2 cents:
    1. The birth process is very painful for the baby too. If the baby has heart defect, there are high chances of delivery complication, probably leading to still birth.
    2. Adoption after birth may be a good idea. But again, we can find a lot of parents wanting to adopt a healthy baby over a baby with congenital defect. So chances of adoption for this baby may also be bleak, though i am not sure and have no numbers to prove my point.

    Lekhni: I agree, this baby would have a hard time getting adopted in India 😦 I am glad that Niketa has decided against adoption.

  18. Pingback: I-n utero - joys, fears & choices « Sand’s Random Ramblings

  19. Lekhni:
    Very well argued. However, i don’t think there will be a resolution in this matter because both sides (pro-choice and pro-life) work on a different set of assumptions the most fundamental being i.e.
    1. When does life begin? What do we mean by viability? Some seem to believe it begins at conception, others at birth, others somewhere in between. The law treats life as a birth.
    2. Should a woman have control over her body in all circumstances? In this case, I agree with you that the woman bears the child, till the child is born the father is still only a partner and should cede to the wishes of the mother. The father can (like the State) offer incentives, reason, argue with the mother but cannot coerce her into carrying the baby if she does not want to.
    Once you are pro-choice you are pro-choice all the way. You can’t be “prochoice but…”. Otherwise we get into arguments e.g. the fetuses of incest and rape are lesser beings than those who are not and so can be terminated (which I think is what the Church believes, so at least points for their consistency).
    Judith Jarvis Thompson has a nice article (I put it on Mad Momma’s site as well) “A defense of Abortion” (the wikipedia link gets you to the article) which says that even if (1) is true, then abortion is still morally permissible.

    Lekhni: You make a very good point about all foetuses being equal. It’s true, what about the foetuses that are legally aborted, no questions asked, before 20 weeks? And the foetuses conceived through rape and incest? How is it okay to abort them then? 😦
    I am so glad, though, that no one is arguing that even foetuses conceived through rape should not be aborted. Thankfully, even South Dakota has changed its mind!
    You are also right about the father ceding to the wishes of the mother. Otherwise, we will get into the scenario of husbands forcing their wives to either (i) abort because he is not economically stable yet, or (ii) have multiple children because he is still “trying” for a son 😦 As if it were a game of dice, and you could throw the dice one more time to see if you’d get the number you want.

    Edited to add: I just read Judith Jarvis Thomson’s paper “A Defense of Abortion” that you mentioned, and you are right, it’s a great paper and I completely agree with it πŸ™‚

  20. I guess it boils down to a quality of life versus life argument for the child. (Assuming that the mother genuinely has the child’s welfare in mind, and is not doing this for any ulterior motive – which i think is probabaly the case). For all the “live happily with a pacemaker examples, I am sure there has been a great many people who have suffered tremendously – physicaly, emotional, financial trauma of obsessing through nights worrying about whether the child will make through the night, the kind of self image and perception which the CHILD will permanently have to live with and so on and so forth.

    Honestly, I dont know what I feel about it. I have mulled and thought over it but just cant seem to come to stick to any side of the debate. I sympathize with this particular mother – but also the child.

    Lekhni: I agree. It is a very difficult decision for the mother 😦 The last thing you want to do as a mother is to bring a child into the world and then have the child asking “why was I born? why do I have to go through all this?” 😦

  21. Very well summed up.
    But, there are a few points that I would have liked to add to your article.
    1. Who the hell are these judges to decide how the tax money of a lot of people should be used against their wishes to help someone who doesn’t need the help?

    2. All pro-life crusaders, go watch George Carlin’s take on abortion, please. Some of his views are relevant to India

    3. Can’t Niketa get the baby aborted outside India?
    Just like how the brits come to India to get the IVF done to negate the policies of NHS/Govt .

    Lekhni: It’s true, premature babies cost a lot. I was reading a Businessweek article called “Million Dollar Babies” that mentioned how some premature babies in the US can cost about 400,000 in care for the first two years and have lifetime recurring costs adding up to as much as a million dollars.

    I guess Niketa can abort outside India, but then she also chose not to go to any clinic within India and do it illegally, so I doubt that she will consider abortion now.

  22. Even if my mother wants to kill me now, 27 years later, I’ll be happy to be terminated (I seem a little mentally disabled to her anyway).
    Sorry for the bad joke, but the debate is getting very heavy around here. I fully agree with Lekhni’s argument; I am even in support of a persons right to die. But then we are mere observers, nowhere close to the emotions going through the *Family*.

    Lekhni: I agree completely, we can argue all we want, we are not going through the emotional roller coaster the parents are 😦

  23. My thots are just the same…. U said it completely, correctly πŸ™‚ Nice comprehensive post. Have linked your page in my blog. Hope that’s fine.

    Lekhni: Thanks! I also visited your blog, and I think you have articulated the issue beautifully πŸ™‚

  24. Hello Lekhni,
    Forgive my lengthy and rather indulgent comment, I am not trying to steal your thunder, but the intolerance, the conceit, the inconsistency and the hypocrisy of the anti-abortion group leaves me dumbfounded and disgusted.

    @ comment 3 Rajesh Kumar
    It is not similar to anyone killing an adult with a heart problem.
    Also, it is not similar to euthanasia.

    It is a question of the lady’s right to abort a baby that she doesn’t want.
    It’s a part of her body and it is not born yet.
    You can’t force her to carry the baby just because you think the baby is an independent entity.
    By the extension of your argument, I am sure you wont remove your cysts and cancer cells
    After all these are also living cells.
    I am sure you don’t eat/use products made out of egg, chicken (and other animals) or even root vegetables as that is indirectly supporting a murder.
    Egg is after all an aborted chicken/duck etc.

    @ comment 4 ??!
    You seem to believe in the sanctity of life, great.
    If I am ever driven to commit suicide, I would contact you.
    I am sure you would be kind enough to do whatever you can to solve my problem and help me live a happy life.

    I am guessing that you belong to MCF,working in Zimbabwe and that you have saved a few lives in Vidarbha by selling all your worldly possessions.
    Keep up the good work!

    @comment 5 km
    Are you suggesting that this is murder?
    Are you suggesting that laws can be only be ambiguously defined without any exceptions?
    If it were the case the interpretation is left to people who have no incentive to be just and fair.
    And even if it were so, its implementation would be confused at best.

    @ comment 7 Shefaly
    We are not entirely disconnected from what is happening in Niketa’s case.
    Have you read this beautiful poem ?

    “If it were as simple as the foetus somehow being a woman?s property by virtue of it being inside her body, we would have no debate on this issue.”
    That is what the debate is all about, it is a part of the women’s property.
    It doesn’t belong to the layman or to the State. It belongs to her.

    And, if every foetus is a potential individual,by extension so is every sperm and egg.
    Doesn’t that sound absurd?

    Much more than socio economic implications, it is first and foremost a question of her freedom.
    Without a respect for liberty ( social and economic) no society can EVER hope for economic or social prosperity.
    We will only keep bickering and keep going around in circles.
    The greatest contribution of Nehru, Stalin, Mao is teaching us precisely this.

    @ Comment 11 the mad momma
    1.A paraplegics life is probably as valuable to him as my life is to me.
    May be Niketa would be scarred, may be she is losing something precious.
    May be she will regret.
    But let her decide what she wants to do, she didn’t promise to anyone to carry the baby for 10 months.
    She is not obliged to carry the baby, she is no surrogate mom who is contractually bound to carry the baby.
    Let her abort it if she so wishes.
    Why should anyone be able to stop her from doing it when there are doctors willing to perform the abortion?

    2.Are you okay if the foetus is killed without the pain?
    Don’t you have any concern for the emotional pain that this lady and the baby might carry for the rest of the life

    3.She wasn’t looking for compensation, it is the judge who was willing to direct the govt to compensate her cos he is not willing to let her abort.
    And, it does not belong to her becos it is dependent on her.
    I am dependent on my mother for food, friends for company and my company for my livelihood.
    Everyone is dependent on everyone else, that doesn’t make me their property.
    The foetus is a part of the mothers body, it is living inside it, it is a part of her body and it is for her to decide what to do with it.
    Are people just bothered till the baby is born, what about after the baby is born, people cant care to look so far cos it doesnt excite em anymore i suppose.

    4.Two wrongs don’t make a right, just because suicide is not legal doesn’t make it okay for abortion to be illegal.
    And, why shouldn’t a person be allowed to conceive and abort at will?
    How is anyone else affected?
    Why is it anyone else’ business?

    @16 sowmya
    The baby is not born yet, it is not counted in the census.
    Talking about commitment towards the child is written under the assumption that she is abandoning the child.
    She might be strong enough to care for the child, may be she just doesn’t want te child to grow up in pain.
    And, talking about commitments, what does the society do to the millions of kids who are abandoned?
    Do people track the parents who break the commitment with the same vigor?

    The main contribution from the society towards such kids is a bad name and a painful emotional scar.

    Bottom line:
    When will people realize that “An individual is the smallest minority in the world.” ?
    And that everyone is screwed one way or the other when individual freedom is not respected.
    Wonder if many of them will be able to connect the dots when their liberty is impinged on,even when it doesn’t concern anyone else.

  25. Good, compassionate analysis, Lekhni. Thank you so much for laying it out so clearly and comprehensively.

    Lekhni: Hey, thanks πŸ™‚ I am especially touched at the word “compassionate”. (I am being compassionate, I really am, but none of the other commenters have accused me of that πŸ˜‰ )

  26. Shankar

    Hopefully you do know that many you have described as ‘anti-abortion group’ here are far from it.

    It is when ‘right to abortion’ related discussions start taking the tone of property rights related discussions that many, who are otherwise all for women’s rights (not least because many of us are women ourselves, surprise!) are forced to shed a different light on the subject, asking why a foetus should be treated like the mother’s chattel, which it patently is not. Which ironically happens to be a discursive point (since we are just discussing).

    It is also interesting that in pursuit of your argument, you ignore the science-related point I made. The viability question is only applicable when the sperm + egg become a zygote, and as science determines, develops the primitive streak. On its own, the sperm and the egg can do sweet-FA. I call that reductio ad absurdum line, as would many others.

    It is ironic that you cite the poem that I cite most often on my own blog (you are free to go search for it, of course, should you so desire). That is precisely why I make the points I make.

    We do not have to disabled to feel for them, nor do we have to be ill to know how valuable health is. Great thing – interpretation, isn’t it. The poem can be read many different ways. If I were a disabled foetus, I may not much like to be terminated! That is the point of my argument (and my point about designer ‘we only want it if it is perfect’ babies, which you do not address).


  27. @ 27 Shefaly
    Thanks for the response.

    I did realize that there are a lot of women around.
    And,yeah I am all for a dialectic approach.
    At hindsight, the tone of my comment should have been better measured in parts.

    Enough niceties, to the argument now
    1.Till the baby is born, as long as it is attached to the woman, it is a part of her body. And so, if she doesn’t want to carry it anymore why should it be forced upon her? It is for her family and friends to offer suggestions and views
    on morality and ethics. Society and strangers should rather take care of their lives and make sure they don’t trouble others.

    When a doc is authorized to administer euthanasia on someone who is a vegetative state by a close relative, its not because the person who is ill is considered a property or a slave of his/her close relatives.
    It is more humane and practical.

    An unborn baby is not a separate individual.
    Even if you were to see it as one, it has rights only when “its rights” doesn’t impinge on its mother’s rights to a good health and happiness.

    Of course it was absurd to tell that egg and sperm are potential humans, that is the reason I hastened added that it is absurd.
    Obviously, they are a very long way before they end up as humans.
    Similarly, it is absurd to tell that a 26 week old fetus is a human baby.
    There is still a long way before it can be seen as an independent entity.
    That was the point.

    It sounds interesting to know that the “fetus doesn’t want to get terminated”
    I have not studied medicine and I am not scientifically inclined.
    So, I would be be curious to know if it has been proven beyond reasonable doubt that the fetus has feeling/thought process/ cognition about life death etc.

    I would also be interested to know if poultry, plants have similar feelings.
    I would like to hear why human feeling deserve more respect than poultry and animals.

  28. @ 27 Shefaly
    Realized that I still hadn’t answered the crux of your argument.
    Fact remains that in nature, humans and also other animals tend to select the best suitable mate so as to increase the chance of having the healthiest(and other attributes added) progeny. The instinct hasn’t changed much.

    The attributes, what people would look in a mate is based on a person’s individual instincts/configurations.

    Who are we to tinker with someone else’s choice?
    If someone wants a designer baby, so be it.

    I am reminded of Ian Mc Donald’s River of gods, a sci-fi about India a few decades hence.
    He visualizes a scenario where babies are designed to be born with advantages that don’t come with natural conception.
    That is not the case here.

    All that this lady wants here is to abort her fetus.
    And some might think that it is because she wants a healthy baby only(which is also not wrong), but it could only be that she doesn’t want the baby to suffer for the rest of its life cos she loves the unborn baby more than others.

    My guiding principles are, anything goes:
    1. As long as someone else’ liberty is not compromised
    2. As long as a contract is not broken

    And , a fetus is not a baby.

  29. Pingback: Much ado about a potentially disabled foetus « La Vie Quotidienne

  30. would you then say that miscarriages should be prosecuted?

    I am saying just the opposite. It will never be possible to prove that a biological process was deliberately set in motion by the woman.

    And therefore, the law must draw a line. It’s an artificial line (like any law), but if the law says 20 weeks is legit, that’s what it is.

    Tell me, how would one “design” a law that would allow abortions after 26 weeks while still not allowing the murder of female foetuses?

    Lekhni: km, I just don’t get it 😦 Why is it fine to abort until 20 weeks, but in the 21st week it becomes murder?
    Yes, I know, that’s what the law says, but isn’t that we are debating?
    On the female foeticide thing, the only way to prevent it is to not disclose the sex of the baby. Which is already the case in India.

  31. @ km (Comment # 31)
    Laws should evolve with changing times, just like customs, religion, science etc.
    Else, they will be irrelevant and counter productive.

    So, when you say that
    “And therefore, the law must draw a line. It?s an artificial line (like any law), but if the law says 20 weeks is legit, that?s what it is.”

    A suitable reply would be that, we should not relax in our arm chairs just because we are not personally inconvenienced.We need to speak against encroachment of our liberty and stupid laws.The law must be better defined or it must go.

    Tell me, how would one ?design? a law that would allow abortions after 26 weeks while still not allowing the murder of female foetuses?
    1. If we enforce the the law that makes sex determination illegal, it should take care of female foetcide.

    2. I can understand that female foeticide has far reaching problems to the society.

    But, inspite of all that, I don’t think anyone should be prevented from aborting their female foetuses.
    The socio-economic realities of these people are different from mine and I would let em live their lives the way they want. The difficulty for their sons to get a mate and the benefits of being a girl in that generation would make people realize their stupidity and the system would correct itself.

    Tolerance is the least we contribute for a harmonious society.
    It has been time and again demonstrated that when individual liberty and equality is guaranteed, the system would correct itself and tend to a state of equilibrium.

    Laws against dowry, prohibition laws against drinking, prohibition against recreational drugs, laws against abortion etc would only tend to confuse the understanding of the reality and make matters worse.

    People should stop being judgmental about others and focus on leading their lives the way they want without disturbing others.

  32. here’s a Question, Lekhni – I am taking your last line as is – “But the State has no right to force a woman to put all her energy and her life-blood into bearing a baby that she is strongly against carrying to term. A woman should have the right to make the final decision on very part of her own body.”

    So does this apply to women carrying girl children they dont want? ITs a baby she is against carrying to full term for reasons like dowry or because they want a male heir and already have 3 daughters to educate and get married… they mght be a middle class family… then ?

    Lekhni: The best way to tackle the issue of female foeticide (and India is doing this already) is to prohibit doctors and other medical professionals from disclosing whether the foetus is female. You can’t outlaw abortion wholesale for this reason.

    Besides, as this UNESCO article says, “abdominal ultrasound imaging can tell the sex of a foetus with 90 per cent accuracy at 14 weeks.” So in India, women can legally abort at 14 weeks if they surreptitiously find out the sex.

    So outlawing disclosure of gender is the only way to go.

  33. Hi Lekhni,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. Yes, I think we two are on the same wavelength. Nice to read the discussions here.
    I wonder what would have happened if some of my questions which I asked at the end of my post were answered.

    Lekhni: Yes, it’s a great debate here! πŸ™‚
    On the questions in your blog, well, I don’t think the judge can make an exception for Niketa, nor did she seek it. If I remember, she wanted the law to be changed. Anyway, to me the big picture is the general principle and not the particular issues in Nikita’s case (the typo and all that).

  34. Wow, you seem to have started a debate that our country needs to have on a parliamentary level . Really good going. I simply, simply do not agree that Niketa cannot do what she wants. Of course, I know that after reading this comment, there will be mothers/people who will point out that the foetus is a baby, a life. I do agree on that too. I seriously do. I’ve never been pregnant, and hopefully, somehting like this will not happen with me. However, I certainly think, like you said that is a matter of principle that a woman should have a right over her body.

    What if a regular pregnancy ( with the child being okay) turns out to be a nightmare and the doc comes in and says : child or mom? Who would we choose? I know this sounds filmi, but well…this case is equally filmi too, or atleast being made so! Sorry for re-commenting and hijacking so much space!

    Lekhni: The usual statement for the husband to make (in the filmi scenario) is “maa ko bachao”, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the maa always dies and the child is brought up to become the hero πŸ˜‰ (I don’t remember any heroines, do you?)

  35. Actually, am also sorry I called this a ‘case.’ Hurts, but for lack of a better word at this moment.

    Lekhni: Well, I’ve titled this post the same way πŸ™‚ I keep thinking of the issue on the lines of “the case of Niketa Mehta vs. the Republic of India”. Strange, I am not even a lawyer.
    But “Niketa’s case” sounds fine to me, it doesn’t sound like I am making her Exhibit A. It is a legal case after all.

  36. @Shankar, Lekhni: those are all good arguments, though to Shankar’s point about “individual liberty”, I wonder if he considers the 26-week old foetus worthy of the same liberty and rights? (I am not trolling or saying the 26-week old foetus is or is not an individual. Pardon me if I sound sarcastic or belligerent.)

    My stand on this subject is simply this: till there’s a way to reconcile the moral, legal and spiritual facets of this debate, I am uncomfortable with any side asserting its “rightness”. I do not see myself aligning with the courts or the mother or the pro-choice/pro-life groups or any religious groups.

  37. @Lekhni
    Apologies for all the real estate.

    @ km(comment #37)
    I don’t consider a 26 week old(or any no of weeks) foetus as an individual.
    If it were, we don’t need the term foetus in our conversations.
    I have always observed that expectant parents don’t count the foetus as a child when they are asked the no of children they have.
    The reply generally is, “I/We have X kids and one more is on the way”

    Once it is born, it is a separate entity, it is registered as one.
    It has a birthday and it enters the rat race.
    A child is not “born” until it is born.
    We don’t celebrate the anniversary of conception, we celebrate the birth anniversary.. etc.

    I could go on..
    But,If someone were to consider their foetus as an individual, its fine by me.
    And, for my socio-economic situation I would also not like to abort “my” foetus.
    And, If I lose a foetus, it would be very painful.

    BUT, but.. neither I nor anyone else in the society has the right to impinge on someone else’ liberty + foetus is not a separate entity until it is born.

  38. Something that’s not clear in all this debate. Was the sex of Niketa’s foetus determined? Might that have played into the decision to abort? It does raise a question regarding societal attitudes if the foetus was determined to be a female, and therefore less worthy of attempting to keep alive with heart surgery etc.

    Lekhni: That’s an interesting point. It could not have been only because the foetus was female, for as this UNESCO report I linked to earlier says, the foetus’s sex can be determined with 90% accuracy in the 14th week (when Niketa could have legally aborted it, no questions asked). However, if Niketa knew that the foetus was female, and then learnt later that the foetus had a heart condition, she may have started worrying about the future of a girl with a pacemaker (“how will she get married? how will she lead a normal life?”)

    I am still willing to believe that it could have been heightened concern for the greater trouble a girl with a pacemaker would face.. somewhat misguided thinking of course.

    Of course, all this is just speculation. We will never know if Niketa knows the foetus’s sex. Since a sex determination test is illegal in India, if Niketa’s worry is greater because it’s a female foetus with a heart disease, she is not likely to voice that concern πŸ˜‰

  39. This is the my first time commenting on your blog. I will be honest with you that I didn’t go through your post in all entirety. I appreciate the information that you have posted in such detail. It’s fantastic. I did, however, carefully read the conclusion and respect you for it. This issue is indeed a very grey area for any outsider to make a decision as if it was black or white. The mother of the child should be given a full choice to decide what she wants to do with the foetus that technically is still a part of her body. If there is any proof that the mother is being forced into aborting the baby, that’s a different story. However, if the mother herself chooses not to give birth to her child, why should state interfere? why should anyone interfere?

  40. @Sujatha:No, as per one interview, the sex of the foetus wasn’t known to the couple neither they were interested in knowing it.
    Sorry Lekhni for replying to Sujatha. πŸ˜›

  41. Pingback: the Mehta case (and the bloggers) « banalities of my life

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  43. /* requiring a mother to complete her pregnancy for a foetus she doesn?t want, we are forcing her to provide prenatal care (using her own body) which is not of her own choice, and for which she is obviously not being compensated either. The question is, is that a fair and just law? */

    Asking a mother to do the work of upbringing a girl child when she does not want to do that work is a similar argument. In this case she would have to pay a hefty dowry at marriage and can get no income from the said girl. More cruel than jail prisoners as they get some nominal pay when they are released. (This argument is specific to situations where female infanticide is common).

    That there is a parasitic dependence by the foetus to the mother is a good argument. But I don’t know what to do with that fact. A defective feotus is no more risky to the mother than a normal one.

    Lekhni: The argument you are making is an economic one – it’s about how housewives don’t get paid for housework, or all parents (and step-parents) for childcare. That is true, but beside the point. None of that – doing the dishes or bringing up kids – carries with it significant medical risks to the person doing it.

    Yes, a defective abd a healthy foetus are both risky, but again the issue is, can we compel a woman to bear that risk if she does not want to?

  44. MM, I didn’t mean to suggest a father’s role should be limited: I am all for equal parenting. But it’s the woman who bears the child, who goes through the pain and discomfort. The man can only support her: he cannot take over her role. Not until the child is born. It’s not by choice, I agree. It’s probably unfair, too. But that’s how it is. And given that it’s the woman who carries the child, who is the only person directly involved in the process till the baby is born, I think it should be her decision entirely.

    I don’t think “terminate” is any more cruel than “abort”. They are words that mean the same thing.

    There is one overriding reason why I want the parents to be able to decide. I would hate any unwanted child being born. A child deserves love and care. If the parents already feel they are not equipped to care for it – isn’t it unfair on the parents as well as the child to force them on each other?

    Adoption might be an answer – but I am sure these parents would prefer to bring up the child themselves than to give it away. There’s no guarantee that you would find willing and responsible adoptive parents.

  45. Please read this paper written by an educated, intelligent, articulate woman with spina bifida who has been active in India working with children with disabilities and in lobbying on behalf of people with disabilities in the UK. Her perspectives on pre-natal screening for disabilities and abortion are certainly worth considering.


    Lekhni: Thanks for the link and the comment. I read the article, and I agree, I do not consider that a foetus’s potential disability implies that it has to be aborted. But again, it doesn’t matter what I, or you, or the rest of society thinks. All I say is – that decision is still the mother’s to make. We can place all the information before her, and ask her to think about it, but we cannot decide for her.

  46. There is one overriding reason why I want the parents to be able to decide. I would hate any unwanted child being born. A child deserves love and care. If the parents already feel they are not equipped to care for it – isn?t it unfair on the parents as well as the child to force them on each other?

    True to some extent, but the experience of having a baby is also transformative for the parents. There are many stories of parents reconciling with their estranged kids as soon as they become grandparents. Who is to say that a similar dynamic can’t happen for parents, and what’s unwanted becomes loved as soon as brought into the world? Yes, it’s better to be prepared – financially, emotionally, mentally – for raising a kid, but people do adapt to circumstances and learn as they go along. As the saying goes, life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans. πŸ™‚

  47. “Who is to say that a similar dynamic can?t happen for parents, and what?s unwanted becomes loved as soon as brought into the world?” I don’t say that can’t happen. It is very likely to. But if the couple is saying they are not ready or equipped to take care of the child, why should someone else tell them, “No, no, you have to”?

  48. Pingback: On Abortion « The Ego Chronicles

  49. Hi Lekhni,
    Very well written and argued. I totally agree with you. I could not have put my thoughts on the subject in better words. I really wish the best for the Mehta’s. Nice to know that someone out there shares the thought.


    Lekhni: Thanks, Subhashani πŸ™‚ Yes, I hope Niketa finds the strength to do whatever she thinks is right!

  50. I did not write a post on it, I did not know what to think of it, I was totally confused. Can’t say I am very clear even now, but I do agree with this much, that a woman must have a right over her own body.
    It bothers me that the baby can feel pain if aborted at this stage…

    Lekhni: I agree, it is not easy for a mother to do this knowing the baby would feel pain 😦

  51. Your argument about a mother’s labor pain against an unborn baby’s pain in abortion is idiotic to put it politely. My friends have had babies through natural birth and they have confirmed the pain is only for the moments when the baby is passing through the birth canal. But the baby during abortion is killed you moron. He/she doesnt get anesthesia – s/he is cut into pieces alive or his brain sucked out during late term abortions.

    You all would have been horified if the same treatment was given to a convicted criminal, but you can happily endorse the killing of an unborn baby from the comfort of your home. If you don’t like my attitude that’s your problem right. Just as if a mother doesnt want her baby, its her baby’s problem to face death. go figure it out in your heads, you people are endorsing a violent killing of a baby while you whine that you are being good to think of the mother.

    Lekhni: This post must be popular! I’ve already received my first comment on it from an anonymous troll ! I was wondering if all the trolls had disappeared – thanks for keeping my faith in trolls alive πŸ˜‰

  52. Nicely presented and aptly concluded

    State cannot take away the right of a person on her body.period.

    In my opinion,even state do not take responsibility of a foetus. It is not counted as part of population, not issued any ration card/id/passport, do not have any certificate like birth/death etc etc etc……..in short it is not considered as a citizen/individual. When state itself do not consider foetus as a LIFE/individual, what right does it has to dictate terms for/againt it….Knowingly or not, state has left the responsibility entirely to the parents, so it should be their call on the matter. Who are we/state to act as moral police..??

    Lekhni: You are right. I deplore this tendency of the State to insinuate itself into the private life of a woman on specious moral grounds 😦 “Moral police” sums it up perfectly πŸ™‚

  53. I agree with you that the decision is to be left with the mother.
    I have a cousin who has a “child” who is 30 years old. 30 years ago, this baby was born with a heart defect (that is not possible to be corrected). Because of the defect, both her physical and mental development were arrested – she cannot even walk to the bathroom on her own; well, she does not even know when she needs to go. And yet, there she is, eats some food daily and exists.
    Those who talk about “murder” and pain for the foetus from the abortion, can they comprehend, even one bit, how the lives of the parents in this case changed? They had an older daughter (normal) but do you think they could give her adequate attention?
    My mother has, on several occasions, taken care of this 30 year old, to help give my cousin some time off, and my mother’s take is that this 30 year old would have been better off had she not been born (with such horrible defects). This from someone who has a mentally retarded sibling.

    It is easy for a majority of us to be intellectual and argue things from the comfort of our homes, without realizing exactly what we are talking about. The suffering is someone ELSE’s and in reality, what locus standee do we have to say it is “wrong”?

    That said, my gut feel says that this couple took the decision into their own hands, which is fine. I have no qualms in admitting that I might have done the same, had I been in their unenviable position of knowing about carrying a foetus that had a heart defect and being forced to carry it to term.

    Lekhni: That’s a heart-rending story. You are right, people can sit around and share their opinions, but they don’t have any stake in the issue. If one starts to make the assumption that parents, who are going to be responsible for their kids all their lives, are not the best judge, then who really is?

    We talk about the foetus’s suffering, but what about the daily suffering a mother goes through watching a disabled child struggle to do even basic tasks? What about the pain a mother feels when she wonders why she put her child through all this suffering? What about the physical and emotional suffering of that child that it cannot even begin to articulate? 😦

    There are no easy answers, but the mother should at least have the right to make the final decison..

  54. Pingback: That kind of a woman « Muse Cruise

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  56. I stumbled across your blog the other day. Even though some of your posts are long, you have a very engaging style of writing, which allows the reader to maintain his interest and continue reading. Very nice blog and by the way, I am also a big fan of Wodehouse (who wouldn’t be).

    As far as your views on the Niketa Mehta case go, based on your argument “If we continue to take the position that the foetus is an independent legal entity”, it becomes a question of who decides who lives and dies. If we take the case of a born child (an independent legal entity), does the mother have the right to kill the child because it is has some terminal disease and everyone involved is going through immense physical and/or emotional pain? Probably not. I am not sure how this case would be different than the arguments you have mentioned.

    In this case, it becomes more of a philosophical question as to who decides as to who lives and who dies. Should we allow the mother to kill a child with a terminal disease? Why is this case different, if we consider the born child as a legal independent entity? Isn’t it a question as to when do we think a human form becomes a legal independent entity rather than whether it is a foetus (inside the mother’s body) or a born child (or outside the mother’s body)?

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