MUMBAI: Observing that mental health and mental illness are not the same, the Bombay High Court on Wednesday allowed an 18-year-old unmarried girl to terminate her 26 weeks pregnancy despite a medical opinion not to allow the same. The HC noted that the girl had just completed her HSC last year and was a daughter of a rickshaw driver and that her family wasn't financially sound.
A bench of Justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Madhav Jamdar was hearing a plea filed by the girl seeking permission to terminate her pregnancy.
In its report, the medical board of city's JJ hospital had stated that at present no abnormality was detected in the foetus and the mother has moderate depressive episode but with treatment the further continuation of pregnancy is unlikely to adversely affect her mental health.
"The mental condition that the patient suffers from does not fulfill the criteria of substantial risk of causing grave mental injury to the mother and hence does not warrant medical termination of pregnancy," the board said in the report.
The girl's counsel Shriram Kulkarni argued that the medical board has ignored the psychological condition of the girl including her suicidal tendencies.
The bench having considered the facts of the case, referred to various provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) law. "The law mandates that while determining whether continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk of injury to the health of the pregnant woman, account may be taken of her actual or reasonable foreseeable environment," the judges noted.
While referring to the definitions of mental health, the bench said, "The expression 'mental health' is a wider concept encompassing within its fold the expression 'mental illness.' Many individuals with poor mental health may not be formally diagnosed with any mental illness."
"Mental state of a person is a continuum with good mental health at one end and diagnosable mental illness at the opposite spectrum. Therefore, though sounding alike the expressions 'mental health' and 'mental illness' are not the same," the judges held.
In its judgment, the bench further referred to various verdicts of the Supreme Court and the HC on the very issue and reiterated, "It has been held that interest of the mother is placed on a higher pedestal than the interest of the prospective child."
"We find that the girl is 18 years old and is unmarried. She has one elder sister, one elder brother and one younger sister. Her father is an auto-rickshaw driver whereas her mother sells vegetables near the house. She has completed HSC in 2020," the bench noted, adding, "The socio-economic condition/ status of the girl is thus clearly discernible."
"Thus, a girl of tender age, to have an unwanted child may lead to disastrous consequences for the rest of her life not only for her but for the entire family," the bench observed while allowing the plea.