In a welcome landmark judgment, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has categorically ruled that a husband cannot compel his wife to conceive and give birth to his child. While making it amply clear that such relationships that know no limits too have boundaries, the High Court was unequivocal in asserting that intimacy is one thing, giving birth to a child another. Moreover, we cannot be oblivious of the fact that it is the wife who bears the endless pain in giving birth to a child and she cannot be coerced to experience it unwillingly. Justice Jitendra Chauhan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court unambiguously said that, "Mere consent to conjugal rights does not mean consent to give birth to a child for her husband. The wife is the best judge and is to see whether she wants to continue the pregnancy or to get it aborted."
This landmark judgment delivered by Punjab and Haryana High Court is hugely significant on many counts. It makes pretty clear that, "to have and to hold, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health" does not give a man the unfettered right to prevent his wife from going in for an abortion. It would be pertinent to mention here that this ruling came on revision petitions filed by Chandigarh based gynaecologists Dr. Mangla Dogra and other petitioners. The main controversy in this case loomed around the decision of a wife to go in for medical termination of pregnancy without her husband's consent. The husband, therefore, felt aggrieved by this major unilateral decision taken by the wife alone on her own without his consent.
To begin with, the couple were married in April 1994 and along with their son were initially staying together in Panipat. But as they were not pulling along well and due to "unending hostilities and strained relations", the wife ultimately started staying with her parents, along with her son, at Chandigarh. However, the duo again came close and the wife conceived after she agreed to accompany her husband to Panipat during the pendency of her application for maintenance. She then opted to undergo an MTP which was carried out by Dr. Mangla Dogra, who was assisted by Dr. Sukhbir Grewal as anesthetist.
Matters came to a head-on collision when the husband, subsequently, opted in favour of filing a civil suit for the recovery of Rs. 30 lakh towards damages for inflicting untold mental pain, agony and harassment against his wife, her brother and parents and also against Dr. Mangla Dogra and Dr. Sukhbir Grewal for getting the pregnancy terminated illegally. In the lower court, he gained the upper hand as a Civil Judge while taking up the plea asserted that, "There is a cause of action in favour of the plaintiff against the defendants (wife and others) at this stage". As expected, Dr. Mangla Dogra and other petitioners who were aggrieved by the orders wasted no time in preferring the revisions.
Justice Jitendra Chauhan of the Punjab and Haryana High Court after listening to both the sides unequivocally asserted that, "The wife knew her conjugal duties towards her husband. Consequently, if the wife has consented to matrimonial sex and created sexual relations with her own husband, it does not mean that she has consented to conceive a child. It is the free will of the wife to give birth to a child or not. The wife is the best judge and is to see whether she wants to continue the pregnancy or to get it aborted.Keeping in view the legal position, it is held that no express or implied consent of the husband is required for getting the pregnancy terminated." While imposing costs of Rs. 50,000 on the husband, Justice Chauhan on a jarring note concluded that, "A woman is not a machine in which raw material is put and a finished product comes out. She should be mentally prepared to conceive, continue the same and give birth to a child. The unwanted pregnancy would naturally affect the mental health of the pregnant woman. It is held that the act of the medical practitioners Dr. Mangla Dogra and Dr. Sukhbir Grewal was legal and justified."
This landmark judgment by Punjab and Haryana High Court is truly commendable form all counts. It accords woman the rightful place which she deserves and makes it abundantly clear that pregnancy cannot be thrust on her against her own wishes. Her staying healthy and fit is of supreme importance and she cannot be treated like a machine which has no brain of its own and acts as per the whims and fancies of others. One fondly hopes that all other courts too will emulate this landmark judgment and place women and her well being at the highest pedestal above everything else and under no circumstances will compromise on it.