The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday held that all women, irrespective of their marital status, are entitled to safe and legal abortion till 24 weeks of pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala and AS Bopanna delivered the verdict on the interpretation of the MTP Act, and whether unmarried or single women can be allowed like their married counterparts the benefit of abortion up to 24 weeks.
The top court said the distinction between married and unmarried women under the abortion laws is “artificial and constitutionally unsustainable” and perpetuates the stereotype that only married women are sexually active.
While stressing reproductive autonomy is closely linked to bodily autonomy, the court ruled that the right to choose contraception, the number of children and whether or not to abort have to be taken without the influence of social factors, The Indian Express reported.
It added the consequences of unwanted pregnancy on a woman cannot be undermined and the health of the fetus depends on the mental wellbeing of the mother. The court held the interpretation of the MTP Act has to reflect the societal realities.
The bench referred to parliamentary debate statistics on unsafe abortions and to a Global Health Study by the British Medical Journal which had concluded that 67 per cent of abortions were unsafe. It added that denying access to safe abortion will increase people resorting to unsafe abortions.
Pointing to the abortion rights for rape survivors, the court said married women may also form part of a class of survivors of sexual assault and rape as it is quite possible that a woman may become pregnant on account of a non-consensual act by the husband.