Abortion is legal in India. There is a framework within which women can legally and safely get an abortion in India. However, access to these safe and nonpartisan abortions is a different ball altogether. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, (MTP Act) prescribes abortion as permissible when the fetus is less than 20 weeks in the following circumstances:
- Continuation of the pregnancy is risky to the life of the pregnant woman or is likely to cause serious injury to her physical or mental health.
- There is a great risk that arises, the child may be severely handicapped due to physical/mental abnormalities.
- Pregnancy due to rape (Possible to cause serious injury to the mental health of the woman.)
- Pregnancy due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (likely to cause serious injury to the mental health of the woman)
The Supreme Court on Thursday said that all women are entitled to safe and legal abortion. The Supreme Court has also ruled that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, which exclude unmarried women from live-in relationships, is unconstitutional. SC has declared that even unmarried women are entitled to seek abortion of pregnancy in the period of 20-24 weeks arising out of consensual relationship. A bench headed by Justice DY Chandrachud said that rape under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act must include marital rape.
The Supreme Court said that under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, rape should mean including marital rape. Further, the SC held that the distinction between married and unmarried women is artificial and constitutionally untenable as it perpetuates the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activity.
The bench said that the right to reproductive autonomy entitles unmarried women the same rights as a married woman. The bench had said that it may strike down the restrictive clause “for being manifestly arbitrary”, which in turn would allow unmarried women also to avail the benefit of termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks.
The bench hearing the matter was told that September 29 is the Safe Abortion Day. Justice Chandrachud reportedly said, “Oh, today is Safe Abortion Day? Thanks for letting us know. I didn’t know the judgment would come with this date. Thanks for letting us know.”