India: Supreme Court bats for same abortion limits for married & unmarried women
Following the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, abortion has become a topic of active discussion across the planet. Now, the Indian Supreme Court, hearing an abortion case has observed that all women, irrespective of their marital status should have the same rights to end an unwanted pregnancy.
Reportedly, the Supreme Court was hearing the case of a 25-year-old woman who had conceived during a live-in relationship. However, since the relationship had ended and she wanted to abort the pregnancy, she was denied as the Indian laws do not have a provision for women in such cases.
The court noted that it will seek to interpret the law to include 'unmarried woman' and 'single woman' under the provision that allows abortion till up to 24 weeks.
As reported by WION, according to the abortion laws in India, a woman may choose to end their pregnancy up to 20 weeks if their doctor recommends it, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MPT), a law passed by the Parliament in 1971.
Moreover, special categories of women such as survivors of sexual abuse, minors, rape victims, incest, and disabled women can seek termination up to 24 weeks.
And therein lies the blindspot for unmarried women. Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules, 2003 states that women who have a change of marital status during pregnancy, either by way of widowhood or divorce may undergo abortion up to 24 weeks.
Justices Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud, AS Bopanna and JB Pardiwala picked up on this specific gap in the legislation and made the observation:
“Going by the legislative intent, a widow has lost support of her life partner and in divorce too, there is loss of support from life partner. This logic will equally apply to a woman who has been abandoned,”
“Take a case where a married woman is neither divorced nor widowed but deserted. She is cast away and has no source of livelihood. Should the law be understood to mean that because she is technically not divorced, she cannot have the right to abort her pregnancy?” the bench further added.
The court further added that the new interpretation of the law should also account for the situation when a birth control device fails. In such conditions, abortion is allowed till 20 weeks.
However, the court wants the legislation to remain uniform and allow 24 weeks for all women.
“Why should we not say that such a right be extended up to 24 weeks as all women are equally circumstanced to suffer the same mental agony of an unwanted pregnancy due to failure of birth control device,”
The progressive stance taken by the Indian Supreme Court comes in stark contrast with the position taken by the US court.