Supreme Court allows unmarried woman to terminate pregnancy at 24 weeks, overrules Delhi HC order
The Supreme Court on Thursday passed an ad-interim order to allow an unmarried woman to abort her pregnancy of 24-weeks arising out of a consensual relationship, subject to a medical board constituted by the All india Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) Delhi concluding that the foetus can be aborted without risk to the life of the woman.
A bench headed by Justices D Y Chandrachud observed that the Delhi High Court took an unduly restrictive view of the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules while declining the woman’s interim relief.
“Petitioner should not be denied the benefit merely on the ground that she is an unmarried woman”, the Court observed in its order.
The bench was considering the petition filed by a 25-year-old unmarried woman, seeking termination of her pregnancy of 24 weeks which had arisen out of a consensual relationship against Delhi High Court’s order of refusing to grant her the said relief.
The bench further noted that after the 2021 amendment, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act uses the word partner instead of husband in the explanation to Section 3, the court said that this shows the legislative intent to cover unmarried woman under the Act.
WIDOW, DIVORCEE ALLOWED TO TERMINATE PREGNANCY
The bench observed that the parliamentary intent is not to confine the benefits to situations arising out of matrimonial relationships. It noted that a widow or a divorcee woman is allowed to terminate the pregnancy at the term of 20-24 weeks.
The bench held that allowing the petitioner to suffer an unwanted pregnancy will be contrary to the object and spirit of the legislation.
“We are of the view that allowing the petitioner to suffer an unwanted pregnancy will go against the parliamentary intent .The benefits under the Act cannot be denied to her only on the basis of her being unmarried. The distinction between a married and an unmarried woman has no nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the Parliament”, the bench stated.
The High Court had observed that an unmarried woman, whose pregnancy arises out of a consensual relationship, is not covered under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003.
The top court did not agree with the Delhi High court’s view and termed it as an unduly restrictive view in as much as Rule 3(b) speaks of change in marital status of woman, followed by expressions widowhood or divorce and held that expression change in marital status must be given a purposive interpretation.
AIIMS TO CONSTITUTE MEDICAL BOARD
“The use of words woman or her partner shows an intention to cover unmarried woman which is in consonance with Article 14 of the Constitution,” the bench said while asking the AIIMS Delhi Director to constitute a medical board in terms of provisions of Section 3(2)(d) MTP Act.
“In the event the Medical Board concludes that the foetus can be aborted without any danger to the life of petitioner, the AIIMS shall carry out the abortion in terms of the petition,” the order states.
The top court also issued a notice to the Union Government and has sought the assistance of Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati on the legislative interpretation.
WHO ARE ELIGIBLE FOR ABORTION AS PER LAW?
Under the present Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Rules 2021, in which the categories of women eligible for abortion of pregnancy up to 24 weeks were specified are survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest, minors, change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce), women with physical disabilities, mentally ill women including mental retardation, the foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped and women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the government.