The Supreme Court of India has allowed an abortion at 24 weeks for an unmarried woman under the 51-year-old Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 and its Rules of 2003 prohibit unmarried women who are between 20 and 24 weeks pregnant to abort with the help of registered medical practitioners.
The Supreme Court, while loosening this provision, said that the prohibition of abortion was manifestly arbitrary and violative of women’s right to bodily autonomy and dignity.
Intention of the law– The rules permit termination of pregnancies up to 24 weeks in 7 specific categories, including survivors of rape or sexual assault, minors, in case of physical disabilities and fetal malformation.
The intention of the law is not to allow abortion freely to all, not to liberalize.
However, an unmarried woman whose pregnancy is over 20 weeks may have also conceived in a similarly vulnerable situation.
Significance– This SC judgment would put these unmarried women on a par with women with less than 20-week-old pregnancies who run the danger of suffering a mental breakdown as they had conceived.
This judgment also puts these unmarried women on a par with the married woman.
The MTP Act has not just used the word ‘husband’. It has also used the word ‘partner’. So, the legislature is not just concerned about women who undergo pregnancy within marriage, but outside marriage too.
Rules– The implementation of abortion in the case is subject to the decision of a medical board constituted by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Delhi (AIIMS).
This medical board will determine if terminating this pregnancy at this stage is medically safe for the woman.