Any woman can now have an abortion up to 24 weeks into her pregnancy
In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court of India allowed unmarried and single women whose pregnancies are between 20 and 24 weeks to access safe and legal abortion care on par with their married counterparts. A 51-year-old abortion legislation that prevents unmarried women from ending pregnancies that are up to 24 weeks old was cracked open by a bench chaired by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud. Any woman in the nation can now have an abortion up to 24 weeks into her pregnancy, regardless of her marital status. According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 and its Rules of 2003, unmarried women who are 20 to 24 weeks pregnant are not permitted to obtain an abortion with the assistance of licensed medical experts. The decision was made after a lower court in July rejected an abortion to an unmarried, consenting relationship woman because she was more than 20 weeks pregnant. Later that month, she was permitted by the Supreme Court to have an abortion up until the 24th week of her pregnancy, and on Thursday, all women were granted the same privilege.
The judge expresses an opinion on the overall effects of pregnancy on the expectant person's body and mind and suggests that she or he should have complete autonomy to end the pregnancy. However, even in the first few weeks, it does not eliminate the need for a registered medical practitioner's (RMP) opinion. The RMP-created obstacles to abortion will nonetheless make it difficult for pregnant women to exercise their right to self-determination. It is disappointing to see that the current laws have not changed. A right that is restricted by procedure is void at all times. The judgment has passed up a chance to make a significant improvement by not stating removing this burdensome constraint. Yet, there are some noteworthy interpretations that are filled with hope. First, the MTP Act 2021 will expand the definition of rape to include marital rape, allowing women to get an abortion if they became pregnant as a result of marital rape.
Currently, marital rape is not a crime under the Indian Penal Code. This gap is referred to in the ruling as "a legal fiction." The acceptance and interpretation of marital rape within the parameters of the MTP Act could serve as a first step toward prohibiting marital rape, which is now being considered by another bench of the SC. Second, even though the RMP must disclose a minor's pregnancy termination under the POCSO Act, they are excluded from exposing the minor's identity at the minor's and their guardian's request. Third, the judgement interprets the MTP Act in a way that is queer-affirmative for the first time. It makes it clear that the term "woman" does not only refer to cisgender women, bringing trans guys and non-binary people within the purview of this statute.
Women's rights advocates claim that much more work needs to be done before all women feel secure enough to make choices about their bodies. They claim that India's abortion laws are becoming more progressive, especially in light of what has occurred in nations like the U.S. where the constitutional right to abortion was overturned by the Supreme Court in June. In India, unmarried and single women face greater obstacles in exercising a right over their bodies, which results in higher dangers and complexities. This is in addition to patriarchal views and societal stigma. An activist claimed that when there are unintended pregnancies, many women are compelled to visit quacks. Unsafe abortions are a major contributor to maternal mortality, the Court concluded. According to the National Family Health Survey 5 (2019), 29.3% of women in the 18–49 age range experience physical or sexual abuse from their spouses.
According to the Medical Termination Pregnancy Act, abortion has been permitted in India since 1971. The law was changed in 2021 to allow for abortions up to 24 weeks, up from the previous 20 weeks. These categories of women include married women who were divorced or bereaved, minors, rape victims, and mentally ill women. But because unmarried women were not included in the amendments, many people began to wonder why the legislation made distinctions based on marital status. In India, 8 women die every day due to unsafe abortions. India is where 67% of unsafe abortions occur, according to a UNFPA report. In actuality, the country lacks strict laws and its citizens are unaware of them. But now with the decision given by the Supreme Court regarding abortion, there may be a significant reduction in unsafe abortions in the coming days.
The Supreme Court's ruling on abortion rights in the matter of X v. Numerous people have praised the principal secretary of the government of the NCT's health and family welfare department as being historically noteworthy. It has unquestionably strengthened the bodily and reproductive autonomy of pregnant women. After carefully reading the 75 pages of the verdict, the initial excitement of viewing parts of it gave way to conflicted feelings. The ruling is initially a progressive view of the law. Unfortunately, it does not repeal the pre existing laws that prevent pregnant women from having full physical autonomy.
The judgment's radical declarations will undoubtedly help to expand the framework for reproductive rights in a country that has yet to normalise ideas like sex education, premarital sex, mental health, and non-binary gender. However, it is also a missed chance to get rid of all the obstacles that stand in the way of bodily autonomy. Now it is up to the executive branch to make sure that the laws are carried out in accordance with this interpretation. It is past time for pregnant women and other people in our country to fully regain control over their bodies and reproductive systems.