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Written by: Vartika Rawat

Intern, Vidhi Parivartan

According to the Supreme Court, which insisted on taking a “forward-looking” stance, any discrimination between a married and unmarried woman regarding India’s medical termination of pregnancy law, which restricts a single woman from having an abortion after 20 weeks, violates her right to personal autonomy. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and the related rules will be interpreted by a bench of Justices DY Chandrachud and JB Pardiwala to determine whether unmarried women may be permitted to terminate up to 24-week pregnancies on medical advice.The bench ruled that the restricted provision might be overruled “for being arbitrary,” which would allow unmarried women to also benefit from pregnancy terminations beyond 20 weeks.

SC is concerned about why single women cannot end a pregnancy after 20 weeks.

According to the MTP Act, 1971, and its implementing rules, a married woman may terminate her pregnancy up to 24 weeks along with her unborn fetus.The apex court questioned why unmarried women are not permitted to do the same, even though the threat is the same for both.If there are legal exceptions, why can’t single women who receive medical counsel also be allowed to end a pregnancy at 24 weeks?

After the 2021 modification, what does the MTP Act say in this regard?

  1. SC highlighted that after the Act’s 2021 modification, the explanation of Section 3 of the Act uses the word “partner” rather than “spouse,” and claimed that this demonstrates the intention of the legislature to cover “unmarried women” under the Act.
  2. The phrase “woman or her companion” indicates a desire to include single women, which is consistent with Article 14 of the Constitution, the bench said.
  3. The MTP Act’s “Rule 3B,” which was updated in 2021, lists seven kinds of women who are qualified for abortion between 20 and 24 weeks.
  • victims of sexual abuse, rape, or incest
  • children
  • people who alter their relationship status while a pregnancy is still being carried out (widowhood and divorce)
  • ladies who have a mental illness or physical impairments
  • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian crises, disasters, or crises that the government may declare
  • Women carrying a deformed fetus that poses a significant danger of being incompatible with life.

The landmark case which decides the rights of abortion of unmarried women is Petitioner(s) v. Principal Secretary Health and Family Welfare Department and Another in which a 25-year-old lady had appealed to the SC after the Delhi HC refused to allow her to terminate her pregnancy that occurred from consenting sexual intercourse, claiming that doing so would be equivalent to killing aninnocent fetus.

In her appeal, the woman claimed that she was single and that her companion had abruptly “dumped” her (about 18 weeks of pregnancy). She approached the court to have the pregnancy terminated at an advanced stage because of social stigma as well as mental and financial challenges, her attorney argued.The Delhi HC urged the mother to place her kid up for adoption, indicating that an abortion at this moment would essentially be killing the fetus.

The SC decided that women may end their pregnancy after 24 weeks. The SC stated that abortion will be permitted if the medical board determines that the fetus can be aborted without endangering the woman’s life. The Apex court ordered AIIMS to form a medical board to investigate the viability of this specific pregnancy. In this landmark decision, Judge DY Chandrachud held that a woman’s marital status should not affect her ability to end an undesired pregnancy. Interestingly, the Delhi HC had previously rejected the request for this abortion.The Delhi HC ruled that because she is an unmarried lady and her pregnancy arose from a consenting sexual relationship, no MTP rule applies to her case.Justice Chandrachud said that the Delhi HC has adopted an excessively strict viewpointand that permitting the petitioner to experience an unplanned pregnancy would be against the letter and spirit of the law. A bench of Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Suryakant, and Justice AS Bopanna announced this historic decision.

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