"Woman Alone Has Right Over Her Body": Supreme Court's Abortion Verdict In 10 Points

Supreme Court verdict on whether unmarried women can seek abortion of pregnancy of up to 24 weeks arising out of a consensual relationship

'Woman Alone Has Right Over Her Body': Supreme Court's Abortion Verdict In 10 Points
New Delhi: The Supreme Court today delivered a historic judgment on abortions rights and marital rape, challenging some long-held stereotypes in the process.

Here are 10 takeaways from the court order

  1. All women — married or not — are "entitled to a safe and legal abortion process", the court said. It held that distinctions between married and unmarried women, under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, is unconstitutional. It violates the Right to Equality under Article 14 of the Constitution, the court ruled. 

  2. In its judgment, the bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud also recognised marital rape but stopped short of criminalising it as that's pending in another case. "The meaning of rape must include marital rape solely within the meaning of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and Rules," the court said. This would mean married women have the right to abortion if the husband forced her to have sex.

  3. The judgment came in a case about whether an unmarried woman can seek abortion of pregnancy of up to 24 weeks. The court had already allowed her the abortion at 23 weeks, but the larger questions were answered today. Before this, the limit for termination of pregnancy was 20 weeks for unmarried women, while being 24 weeks for married women.

  4. The court said this distinction — "artificial and constitutionally unsustainable" — perpetuates the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. The rights of reproductive autonomy give similar rights to unmarried women as that to a married woman, it held.

  5. "It is the woman alone who has the right over her body and is the ultimate decision-maker on the question of whether she wants to undergo an abortion," the court stated categorically in the 75-page judgment. “Be it as significant as choosing the course of one's life or as mundane as one's day-to-day activities... [choice] forms a part of the right to dignity. It is this right which would be under attack if women were forced to continue with unwanted pregnancies.”

  6. "A woman can become pregnant by choice irrespective of her marital status," it stressed, further linking it to Fundamental Rights. "In case of an unwanted or incidental pregnancy, the burden invariably falls on the pregnant woman affecting her mental and physical health. Article 21 of the Constitution recognises and protects the right of a woman to undergo termination of pregnancy if her mental or physical health is at stake."

  7. The court challenged misogyny specifically, saying law should not be  "based on narrow patriarchal principles about what constitutes 'permissible sex'". "A woman is often enmeshed in complex notions of family, community, religion, and caste," it noted. “In the evolution of the law towards a gender equal society, interpretation of MTP Act and MTP Rules must... not be restricted by societal norms of an age which has passed into the archives of history.”

  8. Choice remains a central point in the judgement. “Reproductive rights include the right to access education and information about contraception and sexual health, the right to decide whether and what type of contraceptives to use, the right to choose whether and when to have children, the right to choose the number of children, the right to access safe and legal abortions, and the right to reproductive healthcare.”

  9. It also made it clear that, while seeking abortion in case of rape, "the woman need not necessarily seek recourse to formal legal proceedings to prove the factum of sexual assault, rape or incest".

  10. Stressing the need to educate people on safe sex, the court said the government "must see to it that all segments of society are able to access contraceptives". "Treatment must not be denied on the basis of one's caste or due to other social or economic factors," it said.

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