SC moots verdict for ‘bodily autonomy’
The Supreme Court might overturn a 51-year-old legislation that prohibits unmarried women from terminating pregnancies up to 24 weeks old, deeming the ban "manifestly arbitrary and violative of women's physical autonomy and dignity."
A bench of justices considered putting unmarried women on par with anguished women with less than 20-week-old pregnancies who risk a mental breakdown because they conceived due to failed "family planning devices or methods."
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 and its Rules of 2003 ban abortions for unmarried women 20 to 24 weeks pregnant.
Why should an unmarried woman be barred from having a 24-week abortion if a married woman can? Unmarried women if they are in same situation as married women.
The court noted that the rules allow abortions up to 24 weeks in seven categories, including rape or sexual assault survivors, minors, and those with physical disabilities or foetal malformation.
Honourable justice says an unmarried woman with a 20-week pregnancy may have conceived in a vulnerable situation.
Unmarried women may have been exploited. Her pregnancy may be the same vulnerability as other women's. You must interpret the law forward-looking.
What does the law say? Lew haven't just said 'husband' It uses 'partner' too.
So, the legislature is concerned about both married and unmarried pregnant women. Judge says medical risk is the same for married and unmarried women.
For pregnancies up to 20 weeks, the law permitted a termination with the consent of one physician.
The amended law stipulates that for pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks, the opinions of two physicians are required.
The new Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Rules, 2021, have been issued by the government.
As opposed to the previous upper limit of 20 weeks, it defined the eligibility criteria for termination of pregnancy up to twenty-four weeks.
For the second category, the amended act and the MTP (Amendment) Rules, 2021, specified seven categories (Survivors of sexual assault, rape, or incest; Minors; etc.) of women who would be eligible to seek an abortion for up to 24 weeks.
While the law recognises changes in a pregnant woman's marital status (such as divorce or widowhood), it does not address the situation for unmarried women between 20 and 24 weeks pregnant.
The MTP is not a law that focuses on women and their reproductive rights; rather, it is a law that establishes red lines that physicians cannot cross when performing abortions.
In 1971, when the MTP Act was enacted, it was primarily viewed through a moralistic lens that emphasised married women.
This view has not been altered by the 2021 amendment, as the majority of these mothers are married women who have no reason to conceal their pregnancy.