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SC allows abortion at 24 weeks for Unmarried Women

  • Published
    22nd Jul, 2022
Context

The Supreme Court allowed an unmarried woman whose relationship status changed during the pregnancy to terminate her 24-week foetus.

Background
  • Before 1971, abortion was not legalized and in fact, was criminalized under Section 312 of the Indian Penal Code (framed by Britishers).
  • The Shah Committee was appointed by the Government of India in
  • The Committee carried out a comprehensive review of the socio-cultural, legal and medical aspects of abortion.
  • The Committee in 1966 recommended legalizing abortion in its report to prevent wastage of women's health and lives on both compassionate and medical grounds.
  • But in 1971, the Indian constitution granted abortion rights to women.

Where does lie the gap in the law?

  • The Delhi High Court bench said that access to termination of pregnancy between 20-24 weeks for an unmarried woman on the grounds that her relationship status changed is not included under the Law.
  • As the law recognises change in circumstances of the relationship status between a pregnant woman and her spouse — in the case of divorce and widowhood — it does not envisage the situation for unmarried women.
  • This is the gap in the law that the petitioner before the Supreme Court falls in.

What are the provisions for terminating pregnancy in India?

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (MTP Act), allows termination of pregnancy for all women in the first 20 weeks on the opinion of a registered medical practitioner.
  • However, only certain categories of women are allowed termination between 20-24 weeks under certain
  • Rule 3B of Rules annexed to the MTP Act, which was amended in 2021 specified seven categories of women who are eligible for termination between 20-24 weeks.
  • These are:
  • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;
  • Minors;
  • Those who have a change of marital status during the on-going pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
  • Women with physical disabilities;
  • Mentally ill women;
  • Women carrying malformed foetus that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life; and
  • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the government.
  • For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks old, the opinion of two doctors is required.

What was Supreme Court’s Interpretation?

  • The Supreme Court also observed that the MTP Act’s use of “woman or her partner” provision that was also brought in after the 2021 amendment to say that the legislation must be given a “purposive interpretation”. This means that;
  • SC has seen the fundamental right of the Unmarried petitioner for the case as her relationship status changed during pregnancy.

Recent MTP Amendments Act (2021)

  • It increased the time limit for undertaking the abortion from 20 weeks to 24 weeks for pregnant women.
  • This act also allowed unmarried women to terminate their pregnancy based on the failure of
  • The right to privacy has also been appointed to women. The medical institute can only reveal the details regarding abortion to the authorized person. This new law is more inclusive of rape survivors, victims of incest, differently-abled, minors, etc.
  • Earlier, a registered medical practitioner was allowed to perform an abortion on a foetus for up to12 weeks. And for more than 12 weeks and under 20 weeks, the opinions of two medical practitioners were a must.
  • Now it has been changed to one doctor for abortion within 20 weeks and two doctors for abortion between 20 to 24 weeks.
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