Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday (29th September) that all women, regardless of their marital status, have the right to a safe and legal abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, which is seen as a landmark verdict and a progressive move by the top court. A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala, and AS Bopanna ruled on the interpretation of the MTP Act and whether unmarried or single women, like their married counterparts, are entitled to an abortion up to 24 weeks into a pregnancy. In addition to recognising non-traditional relationships like live-ins, the court emphasised that the law cannot be static and must change along with society.
Although abortion has been legal in India since 1971, the country's severely uneven gender ratio has prompted officials to impose rigorous regulations on who is allowed to terminate a pregnancy. The Indian culture has typically prioritised having sons above having daughters.
The government changed the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP) last year to allow women with certain categories to get abortions between the ages of 20 and 24 weeks. On the list were rape survivors, children, women with mental disorders, women carrying foetuses with significant defects, and married women whose marital status had changed during pregnancy.
This ruling clarified that the amendment did not differentiate between married and unmarried women, and that it must encompass unmarried women in consenting relationships.
“I welcome the pragmatic and progressive decision of the Indian Supreme Court that comes exactly three months after the U.S. Supreme Court's regressive judgment that overturned the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade and made abortion illegal. The view that reproductive autonomy is closely linked to bodily autonomy could go a long way in strengthening gender rights. That the judgment does not discriminate between married and unmarried women is another redeeming feature,” says Vidya Pinto, Advocate welcoming the Supreme Court’s decision.
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