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Home » News » Abortion Cannot Be Denied Merely Because The Woman Is “Unmarried”: Supreme Court Allows Abortion At 24 Weeks


While allowing abortion in the 24th week of pregnancy, Supreme Court noted that beneficial provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act cannot be denied to a woman solely on the ground that she is unmarried.

A bench comprising Justice DY Chandrachud, Justice Surya Kant and Justice AS Bopanna overturned the Delhi High Court’s July 15 order where it has refused to allow abortion to an unmarried woman in the 24th week of her pregnancy. The woman got pregnant due to consensual sex.

If a pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks, it crosses the outer limit laid down by the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) and the MTP Rules for termination of pregnancy arising from consensual sexual relationships.

Delhi HC has noted that Section 3(2)(b) is not applicable in the case of an unmarried woman whose pregnancy arises out of a consensual relationship and is not covered beyond 20 weeks.

However, the top court drew attention to the broader interpretation of the Amendment Act of 2021 in which there is an explanation to Section 3(2)(a) of the MTP Act which uses the words ‘woman or her partner’ instead of ‘husband’.

The court also mentioned clause (c) of Rule 3B which allows termination of pregnancy when there is a change of marital status. The clause has used “divorce” and “widowhood” to describe the bracket of change of marital status.

The parliamentary intent is not to confine beneficial provision of the Act only to a matrimonial relationship. In fact any woman or her partner would indicate that broad meaning has been described by the parliament by keeping in mind broad bodily autonomy of a woman in consonance with Article 21,” the top court said.

The bench went on to add, “The statute has recognized the reproductive choice of a woman and her bodily integrity and autonomy. Both these rights embody the notion that a choice must inhere in a woman on whether or not to bear a child. In recognizing the right the legislature has not intended to make a distinction between a married and unmarried woman, in her ability to make a decision on whether or not to bear the child. These rights, it must be underscored, are in consonance with the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution.”

A woman’s right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of Constitution. She has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity,” the bench added.

Therefore, the bench stated that denying the petitioner the permission to terminate her pregnancy will go against the parliamentary intent. Noting being married or unmarried has no nexus to the object sought to be achieved, the bench stated that the woman cannot be denied her right merely because she is unmarried.

The apex court has directed the Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to form a medical board by July 22 and examine the danger to the life of the petitioner.

The petitioner is from Manipur and has been residing in Delhi.

Special Cases Where Abortion Is Allowed Up To 24 Weeks Of Pregnancy

As per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Rules 2021, following are the cases where a woman is eligible to terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks.

  • Minor;
  • Mentally ill woman including mental retardation;
  • Survivor of sexual assault or rape or incest;
  • Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
  • Woman with physical disabilities [major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016 (49 of 2016)];
  • The foetal malformation that has a substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped; and
  • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.

Read Also: Is abortion legal in India for unmarried woman?

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