On Unmarried Women’s Right to Abortion, Supreme Court Issues Major Order

The Supreme Court of India has empowered unmarried women to have abortions, thus making it clear that a woman’s marital status cannot be grounds for denying or accessing this fundamental right.

In what could be called a significant ruling, the Supreme Court said that even a single and unmarried woman has the right to an abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and regulations until at 24 weeks pregnant.

The distinction between married and unmarried women is unconstitutional

“If Rule 3B(c) is understood to be only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women enjoy sexual activities. Justice Chandrachud, judge chair of the Live Law report, said the freedom to exercise these rights freely.

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He added that including married women and excluding the unmarried would violate Article 14 of the Constitution.

Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 1971 lists the categories of women who can terminate a pregnancy within 20-24 weeks, and unmarried women are not included in it.

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In view of changing social trends and customs
Bench notes that when the Medical Pregnancy Termination Act was passed in 1971, only married women were considered. But now things are changing and accordingly, the law should be more inclusive of changing norms.

The Supreme Court held that the law cannot be fixed and must evolve with changing times and that non-traditional relationships such as cohabitation should be recognized under the law.

The birth of this historic judgment

It all started when an unmarried 25-year-old woman sought direction from the Delhi High Court to terminate her 23-week pregnancy from a consensual relationship. She cannot abort the pregnancy because she is not married and her partner has refused to marry her.

She was denied temporary relief due to reference to the Medical Rules for Termination of Pregnancy.

She then approached the Supreme Court in July 2022, the highest court saying that the Delhi High Court had taken an “excessively restrictive view”. The panel consisting of Judges DY Chandrachud, Surya Kant and A.S. Bopanna took into account the amendments made to the Medical Pregnancy Termination Act 2021, where the term husband is replaced by a spouse. and later ruled that excluding unmarried and single women from the scope of the statute was contrary to the purpose of the law.

“There is no basis for denying an unmarried woman the right to terminate a pregnancy, when other groups of women have the same choice.”

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