SC mulls amending abortion law to include unmarried women
Unmarried women will most likely be able to terminate undesired pregnancies as the Supreme Court considers changing the abortion law. A two-judge bench on Friday sought the assistance of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati in interpreting the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and related guidelines. Previously, the court observed that depriving unmarried women the access to safe abortion infringes their personal autonomy.
"When there are exceptions provided under the law, then why unmarried women can't be included to terminate 24-week pregnancy if the medical advice so permits?" asked Justice DY Chandrachud. "The parliamentary intent appears to be clear as it has replaced "husband" with "partner". It shows that they have considered unmarried women also in the bracket of those allowed to terminate 24-weeks pregnancy," he said.
The bench also stated that it must structure its decision in such a way that unmarried women, like divorcees, widows, or those in judicial separation, can terminate their 24-week pregnancy under medical guidance. Meanwhile, ASG Bhati maintained that there is a reason why unmarried women cannot abort their pregnancy beyond 24 weeks since it might harm their health.
"The experts have their views over this. We need to place those views before the court. The termination of pregnancy at 24 weeks carries immense risk and could even cost the life of the woman," she said. The bench authorized Bhati to present the opinions of experts before it and stated that it need her assistance on the matter.
The Court was hearing a petition from a 25-year-old single woman whose plea to terminate her pregnancy was refused by the Delhi High Court. On July 21, however, the SC permitted the woman to proceed provided the medical board certified that there is no risk involved. On that same day, the bench agreed to examine the scope of the MTP Act to unmarried women.
"A woman's right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution and she has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity," the top court had said. "Denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion violates her personal autonomy and freedom. Live-in relationships have been recognized by this Court," it had underlined.