All Women, Married or Unmarried, have the right to safe abortion under law, says SC

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All Women, Married or Unmarried, have the right to safe abortion under law, says SC

The Supreme Court on Thursday said all women are entitled to choose abortion while pronouncing the judgment in the medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) case.

A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud held that unmarried or single women cannot be excluded from seeking a safe abortion of pregnancies up to 24 weeks under the Medical Termination act and the rules.


“The marital status of a woman can’t be grounds for depriving her right to abort an unwanted pregnancy. Single and unmarried women have the right to abort under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and rules till 24 weeks of pregnancy,” the court said.

“For purposes of abortion, rape will include marital rape,” the top court said.

“Prohibiting single or unmarried pregnant women with a pregnancy between 20-24 weeks from accessing abortion while allowing married women would fall foul of the spirit guiding Article 14,” the court said in its ruling.

The court in its judgment said, “Law in modern times is shedding the notion that marriage is a precondition for the rights of persons. The MTP act must consider the realities of today and must not be restricted by old norms. The law must not remain static and must keep in mind changing social realities.”

According to the court, the law shouldn’t decide the beneficiaries of a statute based on narrow patriarchal stereotypes on what constitutes permissible sex. The court has said that rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy under article 21 give an unmarried woman the right of choice whether or not to bear a child on a similar footing as a married woman.


In an important development, the Supreme Court has also held that the meaning of rape under the MTP Rules must be understood to include marital rape solely for purposes of MTP Act and rules. Notwithstanding the marital rape exception under the IPC, the court has said that the meaning of the word sexual assault or rape in rule 3 B (a) includes a husband’s act of rape committed on his wife.

Expressing concerns over unsafe abortions, the apex court said, “Unsafe abortions continue to be the third leading cause of maternal mortality. 60% of abortions carried out in India are unsafe. By denying access to safe abortion services, restrictive abortion practices lead to unsafe abortions.”

“Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape. A woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sex with her husband,” the court added.

There is no need to register an FIR for rape for abortion to be allowed if a woman has claimed rape, even by a married partner,” the court said.


The Supreme Court said that registered medical petitioners need not disclose the identity of a minor if she seeks an abortion under the POSCO Act.

“It is not the intention of the legislature to deprive minors of MTP. Social circumstances of a woman may have an impact on her decision to terminate,” it said.

The court has said that the state must ensure that information regarding the reproduction and safe sexual practices is disseminated to all parts of the population, and all segments of society are able to access contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancies and plan their families. The court further said that the government must ensure medical practitioners treat all patients equally and sensitively. Treatment is not to be denied on the basis of caste or other social and economic factors.

The Supreme Court had reserved its order in August and had voiced resolve and mulled over how to draft a judgment that would ensure such parity, enabling unmarried women to terminate their pregnancies and protect their bodily autonomy and dignity.

In this case, SC had earlier passed an ad-interim order to allow the petitioner unmarried woman to abort her pregnancy of 24 weeks subject to a medical board constituted by the AIIMS Delhi determining that the fetus can be aborted without risk to the life of the woman.

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