SC seeks Centre’s reply on PIL against abortion laws
The Supreme Court on Monday issued a notice to the Centre seeking its response to a public interest litigation (PIL) that asks for decriminalising abortion, and give women the right of complete autonomy to make decisions related to reproductive choices.
Filed by three women – a teacher, a digital marketing professional and a Public Relations and Corporate Communication specialist – the petition demands that any reproductive choices made by a woman in the first trimester (up to 12 weeks of pregnancy) must get complete protection from laws.
The petitioners, Swati Agarwal, Garima Sakseria and Prachi Vats, have asked the court to declare certain provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), 1971, as unconstitutional as they restrict a woman from exerting her fundamental right to reproductive choice.
The “harsh restrictions” sought to be struck down by the petitioners – Sections 3 (2)(a), 3(2)(b), explanation 3 to section 3(2), Sections 3(4)(a), 3(4) and 5 -- are discriminatory and violative of personal liberty and bodily autonomy, the petitioners argued.
As it stands, Section 3 of the act allows for pregnancy up to 12 weeks to be terminated by a registered medical practitioner, if he/ she believes the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health. For pregnancies between 12 and 20 weeks, termination requires the same opinion from two registered medical practitioners.
Section 5, among other things, permits termination of pregnancy exceeding 20 weeks only in cases of immediate risk to life.
The petition argues that the current law is a violation the principles of privacy as propounded in the Puttuswamy case in 2017, when a nine-judge bench held unanimously that the right to privacy was a constitutionally protected, and incidental to other freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution. It also mentions the landmark 1973 verdict of the US Supreme Court in Roe vs Wade, where the court held that the government could not prohibit abortions in the first trimester because a termination of pregnancy in this period involved minimal risk.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi agreed to admit the PIL.
“The MTP Act has not kept time with changing discourse on sexual and reproductive rights and advancement in medical technology. There is an urgent need to amend the Act. The GOI had notified the draft amendments in 2014, which among other things sought to make abortion in first trimester a right...Unfortunately, the 2014 amendments have not seen the light of the day,” said VS Chandrashekar, CEO of FRHS India and CAG member, Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion.