In the landmark judgment delivered on Thursday, 29th September 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried women who are pregnant out of a consensual relationship are allowed to have abortions up to 24 weeks.
A Bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna, and JB Pardiwala held that Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules cannot be interpreted in a restrictive manner so as to deny the right of abortion to an unmarried woman beyond 20 weeks.
Rule 3B mentions the categories of women whose pregnancy in the duration of 20-24 weeks can be terminated. Thus, the distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained.
The excerpts from the judgment read out:
“If Rule 3B(c) is understood as only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. This is not constitutionally sustainable. The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have the autonomy to have free exercise of these rights”.
The Court further noted that excluding unmarried women from the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution, which deals with the right to equality.
In the significant judgment, the top court observed the Reproductive right part of individual autonomy and stated that the foetus relies on the woman’s body to sustain. Therefore, the decision to terminate is firmly rooted in their right of bodily autonomy. If the State forces a woman to carry an unwanted pregnancy to the full term, it will amount to an affront to her dignity.
Noting that the MTP Act of 1971, which has not been amended, only took into consideration married women at the time, the bench observed that provisions in the MTP Act need to be modified according to the social realities and demands of the time.
As per the MTP Rules, only survivors of rape, minors, women whose marital status changed during pregnancy, mentally-ill women, or women with foetal malformation are allowed to terminate pregnancy upto 24 weeks.
In the present case, the appellant, hailing from Manipur and currently residing in Delhi, had moved to the Delhi High Court after she came to know about her pregnancy.
The High Court had refused relief to the woman, holding that an unmarried woman who is carrying a child out of a consensual sexual relationship cannot be permitted to terminate a pregnancy older than 20 weeks.
The Supreme Court, on July 21, overturned the decision of the Delhi High Court, which had declined to permit the abortion and observed that the Delhi High Court had taken an “unduly restrictive view” inasmuch as Rule 3(b) speaks of “change in marital status” of woman, followed by expressions widowhood or divorce.
On the above premises, the court had concluded that there is no basis to deny unmarried women the right to medically terminate the pregnancy when the same choice is available to other categories of women.”
Source: Live Law & Bar & Bench.