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10-year-old rape survivor denied abortion by India’s Supreme Court

New Delhi, INDIA -- A 10-year-old rape survivor from the Indian city of Chandigarh will have to carry her pregnancy to term after India's Supreme Court denied her permission for an abortion.

Under Indian law, a pregnancy cannot be terminated after 20 weeks, but exceptions can be made if the fetus is shown to be non-viable, or if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother's life. The victim was 30 weeks pregnant by the time the court made its ruling.  

The court based its decision on the assessment of a panel of eight doctors at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) in Chandigarh, who examined the young girl on Wednesday.

The panel of doctors, which included gynaecologists, psychiatrists, paediatricians and pulmonologists, told the court that termination of the pregnancy would pose a risk to both the life of the mother and the child. 

"It's a ready-to-deliver baby inside her. An abortion at this stage would mean we deliver the child and kill it. How can we recommend that?" a doctor who was on the panel told CBS News on the condition of anonymity. 

India's women revolt against a culture of rape

The 10-year-old girl appealed to the court saying she had been raped several times by her maternal uncle, who has since been arrested. Her pregnancy was discovered by her parents at a late stage, at which time they approached their district court in Chandigarh for permission for an abortion.  

Last week, after subjecting the girl to its own examinations by a panel of doctors, the district court rejected her plea. One of the doctors on that panel told CBS News, "Abortion is not an option at this stage. The only way to terminate the pregnancy is to deliver the baby."

An advocate petitioned India's supreme court, which has now asked the government to consider setting up permanent medical boards in every state for swift termination of pregnancies in exceptional cases involving child rape survivors.

"I am happy India will now possibly have a medical board in every state for such cases. The rape victims won't waste crucial time in lengthy legal processes," Advocate Srivastav told CBS News. 

The process of getting court permission to terminate late-stage pregnancies is a lengthy one in India. The victim must first approach a lower court, which generally seeks advice from a medical panel. This takes at least a week. If the court rejects the plea, the victim must appeal to a higher court and the whole process is repeated. The case takes at least three weeks to reach the Supreme Court, by which time the pregnancy has advanced.   

India's courts have allowed several rape survivors to terminate pregnancies beyond the legal limit of 20 weeks. In May this year, the Supreme Court allowed a 10-year-old rape survivor from India's Haryana state to have an abortion after 21 weeks. In 2015, India's top court allowed a 14-year-old rape survivor to terminate her 25 week pregnancy. 

Proposed legislation is currently moving through India's parliament that would raise the legal limit for termination from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.    

The issue of limits on abortions is of particular significance in India, given the country's gruesome record of high-profile rape cases. Official government data shows there were almost 35,000 rapes reported in India in 2015 -- about 95 every day that year.