Unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks: Supreme Court

Published on Sep 29, 2022 11:02 AM IST

The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have the autonomy to have free exercise of these rights, the Supreme Court said.

Forceful pregnancy of a married woman can be treated as rape: Supreme Court
Forceful pregnancy of a married woman can be treated as rape: Supreme Court

In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that all women irrespective of married or unmarried are entitled to seek abortion of their pregnancy in the term of 20-14 weeks, even if the pregnancy arises out of a consensual relationship. In its interpretation of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, the apex court said, an unmarried woman can undergo an abortion upto 24 weeks on par with that of married women as the distinction between a married woman and an unmarried woman can't be sustained.

Also Read | Divorce should not require proving the fault of one of the spouses: Top court

The top court said sexual assault by husbands can take the form of rape and the meaning of rape must include the meaning of marital rape under the MTP Act and Rules for the purposes of abortion.

The rulings came as the Supreme Court was scheuled to pronounce the judgment today on whether an unmarried woman can seek abortion of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks term in a consensual relationship.

Justice DY Chandrachud said the interpretation of the MTP act has to reflect the social realities. Social mores change and evolve as society changes and laws must not remain static and advance the cause.

"Unsafe abortions are preventable. Our understanding of mental health has to be considered in common parlance. Account must be taken of a pregnant woman's environment," the Supreme Court said.

"Married women may also form part of survivors of sexual assault or rape. A woman may become pregnant due to a non-consensual act by the husband. Sex and gender-based violence in all its form has been part of families," Justice Chandrachud said.

"It's ultimately the prerogative of each woman to decide as per her material circumstances. Various economical, cultural or social factors play a part... The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have the autonomy to have free exercise of these rights," Justice said.

"The right to reproductive autonomy is related to bodily autonomy. 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 women are prevented from this, the state would be stripping them of the long-term path they take. This would be an affront to their dignity," Justice Chandrachud said.

The case pertains to a 25-year-old woman who approached the Delhi high court seeking termination of her pregnancy of 23 weeks and 5 days stating that though her relationship with her partner was consensual, she was unmarried and her partner refused to marry her. A division bench of the Delhi high court comprising Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma and Justice Subramonium Prasad observed that the pregnancy of an unmarried woman resulting from a consensual relationship was not covered under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003.

(With inputs from Bureau)

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