On Thursday, September 29, the Supreme Court of India delivered a historic judgement on women’s right to abortion.
The Apex court said on Thursday that “Irrespective of Marital Status of women, women are entitled to safe and legal abortion till 24 weeks of pregnancy.”
A bench of Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala, and AS Bopanna delivered a historic verdict which allowed both single and married pregnant women access to abortion.
The ‘Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971’ and its Rules of 2003 only allowed married women access to abortions, while single pregnant women with the same term of pregnancy were prohibited.
After 51 years, the old abortion law, which restricted single women from terminating pregnancies, was amended after a petition by a 25-year-old woman who said her pregnancy resulted from a “consensual relationship,” but she had sought abortion when the relationship failed.
The top court declared that restricting the law only to married women is a violation of the right to equality. The court further stated that the distinction between married and unmarried women under the old abortion law is constitutionally unsustainable.
As per the national media, The Hindu, “the court said that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act of 2021 has addressed the “continuing crisis” of unsafe abortions. In India, close to eight women die every day due to unsafe abortions. Sixty-seven per cent of the abortions carried out in the country between 2007 and 2011 were classified as unsafe by studies. One of the reasons, as Parliament was aware, was that women who were not married and came from poor families were forced to abort unwanted pregnancies in unsafe or illegal ways.
Justice Chandrachud, who led the bench of justices who delivered a historic verdict, said that “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. “
He further stated during the verdict that, “The benefits of the law extend equally to single and married women. If women with unwanted pregnancies were forced to carry them out to term, the state would be stripping them of their right to determine the immediate and long-term paths their lives would take and would deprive women of autonomy not only over their bodies but also over their lives. This will be an affront to their dignity. The decision to carry a pregnancy to its full term or terminate it is firmly rooted in the right to bodily autonomy. “
Justice Chandrachud further underscores the line “Reproductive rights include the right to access education and information about contraception and sexual health; the right to decide whether or what type of contraceptive to use; the right to choose whether or when to have children; the right to choose the number of children; the right to choose a safe and legal abortion; the right to reproductive health care includes. Women must also have the autonomy to make decisions on these rights, free from coercion or violence. “