Supreme Court ruling will help promote safe abortions, say medical experts

Updated on Sep 30, 2022 12:13 AM IST

The Supreme Court’s ruling that unmarried women are also entitled to seek termination of 24 weeks of pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship is a “progressive” judgment and will help promote safe abortion practices, medical practitioners and women rights activists said on Thursday.

In a significant ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court declared that even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks, like married women, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. (ANI)
In a significant ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court declared that even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks, like married women, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. (ANI)
By, New Delhi

The Supreme Court’s ruling that unmarried women are also entitled to seek termination of 24 weeks of pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship is a “progressive” judgment and will help promote safe abortion practices, medical practitioners and women rights activists said on Thursday.

A woman must have the autonomy to exercise such rights, as the top court observed that any “artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained”, they added.

“Striking down the distinction between married and unmarried women’s access to abortion care is indeed welcoming and progressive. It further strengthens a woman’s sexual and reproductive rights and bodily autonomy,” said VS Chandrashekar, campaign advisory group member of Pratigya Campaign, a non-profit organisation that aims to protect women’s right to safe and legal abortion.

In a significant ruling on Thursday, the top court declared that even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks, like married women, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. It further said that any “artificial distinction between married and single women is not constitutionally sustainable” since it is not only in direct conflict with a woman’s reproductive rights but would also perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual intercourse.

Additionally, in the first legal recognition of “marital rape” under an Indian statute, a bench headed by Justice Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud ruled that pregnancy of a married woman due to forcible sex by her husband can be treated as “rape” under MTP Act and that she can go for abortion without the requirement of anybody else’s consent.

Legal experts believe the apex court’s judgment on abortion will help fight discrimination against unmarried women seeking such forms of relief and may bring about a change in mindset on the issue.

“This ruling interprets provisions of the MTP Act in a progressive manner. This interpretation is the law of the land and will ensure that single women seeking termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks cannot be refused on ground of the narrowness of the law,” said Anubha Rastogi, independent lawyer with Pratigya Campaign.

“We hope the judgment will be a step towards making our abortion regime more liberal and pro-women,” said Poonam Muttreja, executive director of Population Foundation of India.

Medical practitioners said the Supreme Court’s judgment will simplify the abortion process for unmarried women, who otherwise would likely resort to unsafe practices.

“This landmark judgment comes as a significant decision, addressing the challenges in situations where abortion is illegal or highly restricted, forcing women resort to unsafe means to end unwanted pregnancies,” said Dr Chitra Ramamurthy, senior consultant, gynecology and obstetrics.

“Safe abortion practices have been a concern in our country and with this judgment, we can expect a reduction in morbidity and mortality associated with unsafe abortion practice,” Dr Ramamurthy added.

Experts also hailed the judgment for recognising marital rape.

“More importantly, it recognises marital rape as far as MTP Act or access to abortion care is concerned. At a time when sexual and reproductive health and rights are under threat globally, this progressive judgment stands out as a ray of hope,” Chandrashekar said.

Doctors, however, called for awareness of pregnancy preventive measures.

“A sound health policy with personal choice should equally be respected in growing times. Nonetheless, awareness on contraceptive measures and safe sexual practices need to be a sustained and continued practice,” Dr Ramamurthy said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Rhythma Kaul works as an assistant editor at Hindustan Times. She covers health and related topics, including ministry of health and family welfare, government of India.

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