Survivors of sexual assault must be informed of all of their alternatives.

When it was discovered that her 16-year-old brother had been rapping her for months and had hushed her with threats and blackmail, a 13-year-old girl was 12 weeks pregnant.

During the First Information Report (FIR) registration, the doctor on attendance made no mention of the option of terminating the pregnancy to the victim during the medical examination. In the relevant medico-legal documents, she quietly noted “pregnancy.” The police team in charge of the case tried to persuade the woman and her family to have the pregnancy terminated medically (MTP). They were made aware of the potential birth problems in the unborn child due to the incestuous abuse through constant counseling.

With the parents and the frightened victim on board, the attending doctor revealed to be the most difficult obstacle. She thought her job as a medical examiner at an overburdened public health center ended with the medical examination required in medico-legal situations. She saw the early abortion as an additional responsibility placed on her shoulders. After forcing the victim to go to the hospital several times, she nonchalantly declared the victim “too weak” for an abortion. She didn’t seem concerned about how this “too weak” victim would make it through pregnancy and deliveries.

Thousands of such youngsters, many of whom originate from low-income, low-literacy families, are sexually assaulted by relatives and acquaintances. Pregnancies arising from such violations go unnoticed for a long time, either due to the victims’ ignorance or the offenders’ and their families’ fear. As a result, there is an unavoidable delay in reaching the medical facilities. Medical termination is authorized up to the 20-week mark of a pregnancy. For victims of sexual assault, rape, incest, and juveniles, the limit was recently increased to 24 weeks, subject to the permission of a state-level medical board. The courts grant authorization to abort after this period has passed.

It’s past time for the doctor performing the initial medico-legal evaluation to be required to inform the rape victim and her family about the MTP option. In the medical examination form itself, the doctor must note compliance with this requirement in writing, and a column must be set aside for this purpose. A follow-up date for case evaluation could be recorded after receiving written consent from the victim or her guardian on the medical form. Such entries in the case’s permanent police and judicial records would hold the attending doctor accountable.

Suppose the crime is reported to the police within 72 hours of the rape. In that case, the examining doctor is required to offer the victim the emergency contraceptive (EC) pill to prevent pregnancy, and the victim’s consent must be documented in the medical form. Overburdened public services must not trivialize the anguish of a sexual violation. To force a victim of such brutality to raise a child due to it is to add insult to injury.

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