According to the court, forbidding single women with pregnancies up to 24 weeks from having abortions while permitting married women with the same duration to have them is discrimination; this artificial distinction is not constitutionally sustainable.
New Delhi: In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court on Thursday granted unmarried and single women with pregnancies of 20 to 24 weeks access to safe and legal abortion services on par with married women.
A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud loosened the stranglehold of 51-year-old abortion legislation prohibiting unmarried women from terminating pregnancies up to 24 weeks. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 and its Rules of 2003 make it illegal for unmarried women between 20 and 24 weeks pregnant to abort with the assistance of registered medical practitioners.
“The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity and privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution gives an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on a similar footing as that of a married woman,” Judge Chandrachud made a ruling.
The court ruled that preventing single or unmarried pregnant women with pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks from seeking abortion care but allowing married women with the same gestational age to do so was a violation of the right to equality before the law and equal protection (Article 14).
The most important implications of the Supreme Court’s decision on equal abortion rights
A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud loosened the stranglehold of 51-year-old abortion legislation prohibiting unmarried women from terminating pregnancies up to 24 weeks.
Her life may be jeopardized as a result of fetal abnormalities. She could have been a victim of sexual exploitation, which resulted in the pregnancy. There could have been instances where she became pregnant owing to contraceptive failure, placing her in mental misery.
“The law should not decide the beneficiaries of a statute based on narrow, patriarchal principles about what constitutes permissible sex. This would create invidious classifications,” According to Justice Chandrachud’s decision, it coincided with International Safe Abortion Day.
The same susceptibility could have caused her pregnancy that other women face. The court stated that a forward-thinking interpretation of the legislation is required.
“The law should not decide the beneficiaries of a statute based on narrow, patriarchal principles about what constitutes permissible sex. This would create invidious classifications,” Justice Chandrachud stated in the decision, which coincided with International Safe Abortion Day.
According to the court, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act of 2021 has addressed the “continuing crisis” of unsafe abortions. Every day, over eight women die in India due to unsafe abortions. Studies found that 67% of abortions performed in the country between 2007 and 2011 were unsafe. One of the causes, as the Parliament was aware, was that women who were not married and came from poor households were forced to terminate unwanted pregnancies in dangerous or illegal ways. To address this issue, the 2021 changes inserted the word “partner,” indicating that the law was concerned not only with women who become pregnant within marriage but also with women who become pregnant outside of marriage. After all, the medical risk for married and unmarried women was the same.
The court ruled that the artificial division between married and unmarried women was unconstitutional.
“The benefits of law extend equally to single and married women… If women with unwanted pregnancies are forced to carry them out to term, the state would be stripping of their right to determine the immediate and long-term paths their lives would take and deprive women of autonomy not only over their bodies but also over their lives. This will be an affront to their dignity,” In the verdict, Justice Chandrachud commented.
The court determined that reproductive autonomy requires all pregnant women to have the inherent right to choose whether or not to have abortions without the approval or authorization of a third party.
“The decision to carry a pregnancy to its full term or terminate it is firmly rooted in the right to bodily autonomy,” According to Justice Chandrachud, women’s reproductive rights are linked to their bodily autonomy.
The judgment expanded the ambit of the term “reproductive rights.” It was not restricted to having or not having children. ‘Reproductive rights of women included a “constellation of rights, entitlements and freedoms for women.”
“Reproductive rights include the right to access education and information about contraception and sexual health. The right to decide whether or what type of contraceptives to use. The right to choose whether or when to have children. The right to choose the number of children. The right to choose safe and legal abortion. The right to reproductive health care Women must also have the autonomy to make decisions on these rights, free from coercion or violence,” Justice Chandrachud emphasized this point.