INDIA: In a recent development, the Supreme Court of India has passed a historic judgement in favour of women’s reproductive rights.
The bench, led by Justice DY Chandrachud, ruled that unmarried women, who are not in a consensual relationship, are also permitted to have abortions between the ages of 20 and 24 weeks.
A single woman is not permitted to have an abortion after 20 weeks under the Act’s current provisions.
Athough divorcees, widows, and some other groups of women are permitted to do so up to 24 weeks into their pregnancies due to mental agony and other problems.
The judgement says, “Single and unmarried women have the right to abort under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and rules until 24 weeks of pregnancy.”
“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. A woman’s right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution. She has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity,” the bench underlined.
It further says “survivors of sexual assault, rape, or incest” as mentioned in Rule 3B(a) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules.
“For context, Rule 3B(a) mentions the categories of women who can seek termination of pregnancy in the term of 20-24 weeks,” the court added.
The Supreme Court further went on to describe the meaning of rape and its effects. “Meaning of rape must be held, including marital rape, for purposes of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act,” the Supreme Court writes, adding that “it perpetuates the stereotype that only married women engage in sexual activities.”
“Married women may also form part of the group of survivors of sexual assault or rape,” said Justice Chandrachud.
“The term ‘rape’ under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act will include pregnancy due to forcible sex by husbands,” he added.
It should be noted that the Supreme Court is now considering petitions that question the legitimacy of the Indian Penal Code’s exception to Section 375, which exempts marital rape from the rape offence.