Supreme Court Rules That Exclusion Of Unmarried Women From Terminating Their Pregnancy Beyond 20 Weeks Violates Article 14 Of The MTP Act

According to the MTP Rules, Rule 3B(c) cannot be interpreted in a restrictive manner so as to restrict or deny abortion rights to those who are unmarried beyond 20 weeks of pregnancy.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled in a landmark ruling that women should not be denied termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks and up to 24 weeks simply because they are unmarried [X Versus The Principal Secretary Health and Family Welfare Department, Delhi NCT Government].

According to DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna, and JB Pardiwala, Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules cannot be interpreted in a restrictive manner so that unmarried women beyond 20 weeks are denied the right to abortion, and doing so would violate Article 14.

The Court stated that if Rule 3B(c) applied to married women, it would mean that unmarried women do not engage in sexual relations. As a result, the artificial distinction between married and unmarried women could not stand.

According to the bench, even unmarried women who become pregnant as a result of consensual sexual relationships are entitled to terminate the pregnancy up to 24 weeks after conception.

A woman who survives rape, a minor, a woman whose marital status changes during pregnancy, a mentally ill woman, or a woman with a foetal malformation can terminate a pregnancy up to 24 weeks as stated in the MTP Rules.

As per the Act and Rules, termination of pregnancy is only permitted up to 20 weeks in cases of consensual sexual relationships.

However, the top court said such a distinction would violate Article 14 of the Constitution of the United States.

Section 3(2)(b) of the MTP act allowing abortion after 20-24 weeks…excluding unmarried women and including only married women will violate Article 14 of the Constitution.

Using such narrow factors as marital status as the basis for such artificial classification is illegal, the Court said.

A woman’s ability to have a child should be informed about reproduction and safe sex by the state to prevent unwanted pregnancies. “The social reality of continuing unwanted pregnancy must be considered,” the Court ruled.

As well, the bench found that reproductive autonomy is closely linked to bodily autonomy and it would not be appropriate to undermine a woman’s ability to choose for herself whether to have an unwanted pregnancy or not.

A Supreme Court order issued in July allowed an unmarried woman, who became pregnant through consensual sex, to abort her 24-week-old foetus.

A Manipur native now living in Delhi, the appellant filed a case in the Delhi High Court after finding out she was pregnant.

Despite the woman’s pleas for relief, the High Court denied her relief, ruling that an unmarried woman whose pregnancy is older than 20 weeks cannot terminate it.

This case is not covered by Section 3(2)(b) of the Act because an unmarried woman whose pregnancy arises from a consensual relationship and who is unmarried is clearly excluded in cases beyond 20 weeks, as stipulated in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) and MTP Rules for termination of pregnancy resulting from consensual sexual relations.

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A woman may terminate pregnancy up to 24 weeks following conception only if she is a survivor of rape, a minor, a woman whose marital status has changed during pregnancy, a woman who is mentally ill, or a woman who has a foetal malformation.

Her appeal was then taken to the Supreme Court.

Despite the Delhi High Court’s refusal to allow abortions, the Supreme Court reversed the decision on July 21.

It was ruled by the top court in its order in July that the law should be given a broad interpretation and the parliament’s intention must be taken into account.

There was an explanation added by the Amendment Act of 2021 to Section 3(2)(a) of the MTP Act, which calls for the use of the word ‘woman’ or ‘husband’ instead of ‘wife’.

It was read along with clause (c) of Rule 3B, which allows termination of pregnancy if a woman’s marital status changes. The clause has words in brackets referring to widowhood and divorce.

Thus, it is impossible to deny the petitioner access to abortion on the grounds that she is unmarried, because her marital status has no connection to the purpose of the petition.

A medical board must be formed at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in accordance with Section 3 of MTP Act in order to decide the termination of the appellant’s pregnancy.

In allowing the petition, the Supreme Court noted that the High Court took an unduly restrictive view of the MTP Act and its rules.

A hearing was held on the scope of MTP Act and Rules after the Court allowed the abortion.

To interpret Section 3(2)(b) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, it asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati for assistance.

During the hearing, the Bench stated that it could only strike down clauses, but not introduce words into the statute.

In the middle of the pregnancy, all women suffer anguish as if it were a planned pregnancy. The legislature has set a limit of 24 weeks for unplanned pregnancies, so why should we differ based on the status of the woman?” Justice Chandrachud asked.

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