All women, irrespective of their marital status, are entitled to safe and legal abortion, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. In a landmark judgment, the country’s apex court said that the rights available to married women under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, to abort a foetus will also be available to unmarried women. “If Rule 3B(c) is understood as only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. This is not constitutionally sustainable,” a bench, presided by Justice D Y Chandrachud, said.
It added that the “artificial distinction” between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained, and women must have the autonomy to have free exercise of these rights.
The significant decision came months after the US Supreme Court overturned the historic 1973 Roe v Wade decision in a 6-3 decision that made abortion a constitutional right in the country. As such, the ruling marks a positive shift at a time when the abortion rights of women continue to be a point of contention across the globe.
Calling it “significant”, Dr Chitra Ramamurthy, Senior Consultant and Infertility Specialist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru said, “Safe abortion practice has been a concern in our country, and with this judgement, we can expect a reduction in morbidity and mortality associated with unsafe abortion practice.”
“A sound health policy with personal choice should equally be respected in growing times. Nonetheless, awareness on contraceptive measures and safe sexual practices need to be a sustained and continued practice,” she added.
Underlining the importance of having a happy parent for a child and applauding the court’s ruling, Kalai Selvi A, Certified Lactation Care Counselor, Tamil Nadu, told indianexpress.com: “If women with unwanted pregnancies are forced to carry their pregnancies because of legal constraints, it would affect the generations that are going to come. Irrespective of marital status a woman should have the right to decide whether to continue the pregnancy or not. Abortion is essential healthcare and women’s basic right.”
Agreeing, Dr Manisha Singh, Senior Consultant – Gynaecologist and Reproductive Medicine, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, explained the process of abortion in India and said, “Abortions, regardless of a woman’s marital status, are now safe, legal, and easily accessible. To maintain anonymity and safety, women are given a unique medical ID and all details are kept confidential. The procedures are performed under proper medical and surgical supervision if done in the hospital setting. If termination pills are taken at home, it must be under medical supervision and follow up.”
She added that it is essential for healthcare workers, dais, and Asha workers to “spread the message to all women across the board about availability of accredited termination clinics both in the government and in the private sector”.
Access to abortion, according to Dr Renu Gupta, Senior Consultant, Gynaecology and Obstetrics at Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, is “critically tied to preserving and upholding the human rights of pregnant women, girls, and others, and hence to attaining social and gender justice.
She added: “Legalisation of abortions will also discourage the illegal practice of abortions done through untrained, unauthorised paramedics which are hazardous for the health and future fertility of the child bearer.”
The bench also noted that for the sole purpose of the MTP Act, the meaning of rape must include marital rape. “We would be remiss in not recognising that intimate partner violence is the reality and can take the form of rape. The misconception that strangers are exclusively or almost exclusively responsible for sex and gender-based violence is a deeply regrettable one.”
Not doing this, according to the Supreme Court, will compel a woman to give birth to and raise a child with a partner who inflicts mental and physical harm upon her.