The Supreme Court will interpret the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act to include unmarried women. (ANI Photo)
New Delhi: After ruling that denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion violates her personal autonomy, the Supreme Court will now interpret the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and related regulations to see if unmarried women can be allowed to have an abortion at 24 weeks. Pregnancy on medical advice. A bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice JB Pardiwala on Friday asked Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, to assist the court in the study.
“When there are exceptions under the law, why can’t unmarried women be included to terminate a pregnancy at 24 weeks if medical advice allows. Parliamentary intention is evident as it replaces “husband” with “partner”. This shows that they have considered unmarried women also in the bracket of permissible termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks,” said Justice Chandrachud. The bench said there is a need to frame its judgment in such a way that unmarried women are also allowed to terminate their pregnancy after 24 weeks, such as divorcees, widows or judicial separation.
Bhati argued that one reason for not allowing unmarried women to terminate a pregnancy after 24 weeks was because it could affect their health. “There are expert opinions on this. We should put those opinions before the court. Termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks is very dangerous and it can even cost the life of the woman,” she said. The bench allowed Bhati to present expert opinion and said her help was needed on the issue.
Initially, the bench was informed that the 25-year-old woman was allowed to terminate her 24-week pregnancy on July 21, saying it was safe after a successful procedure. On July 21, the Supreme Court expanded the scope of the MTP Act to include unmarried women and allowed a 25-year-old girl to abort a 24-week pregnancy arising from a consensual relationship.
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The Supreme Court had said, “A woman’s right to reproductive choice is an integral part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and she has a sacred right to bodily integrity.” “Denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion violates her personal autonomy and freedom. “Live-in relationship is recognized by this court,” he underlined.
The court had asked the director of AIIMS, Delhi to set up a medical board under the provisions of the MTP Act and said that abortion can be performed without endangering the life of the woman. Doctors at the facility will perform abortions. The court opined that allowing the petitioner to have an unwanted pregnancy would be contrary to the intention of the law enacted by the Parliament.
It held that allowing the petitioner, prima facie, to terminate her pregnancy falls within the ambit of the law and the benefit should not be denied to the petitioner on the ground that she is an unmarried woman.
It adds a distinction between married and unmarried women which is the basic object and purpose sought to be achieved by Parliament which is particularly expressed by the provisions of Explanation 1 to Section 3 of the Act. “The petitioner approached the High Court before she completed 24 weeks of pregnancy. Delay in the judicial process cannot work to her prejudice,” it said.
The Supreme Court asked Parliament through an Act of 2021 to amend the MTP Act with the intention of including unmarried women and unmarried women under the ambit of the Act which is evident by replacing the word ‘husband’ with the word ‘partner’.
However, a gap in the law has been pointed out as while Article 3 travels beyond traditional relationships based on marriage, Rule 3B of the MTP Rules does not envisage situations involving unmarried women, but recognizes other categories of divorced women. Widows, minors, disabled and mentally ill women and survivors of sexual assault or rape.
“There is no basis for denying unmarried women the right to medical termination of pregnancy when the same option is available to other categories of women,” the court ruled.
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