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Volume IconWhat is the significance of the SC ruling on abortion law?

The Supreme Court of India recently ruled that all women, irrespective of their marital status, are entitled to legal abortion as permitted under Medical Termination of Pregnancy rules. Here's more

ImageTeam TMS New Delhi

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It all started with the petition of a 25-year-old woman from Manipur. She had approached the Delhi High Court seeking permission to terminate her pregnancy before the completion of 24 weeks on 15 July 2022. 
The reason? Her partner had refused to marry her at the last stage. She told court that she did not want to carry the pregnancy to term since she was wary of the “social stigma and harassment” pertaining to unmarried single parents, especially women.

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What High Court said
The high court refused interim relief to her.
Its division bench observed that since the appellant was an unmarried woman -- whose pregnancy arose out of a consensual relationship -- her case is clearly not covered by any of the clauses under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003.
MTP Rules allow minors, survivors of rape, women whose marital status changed during pregnancy, mentally-ill women, or women with fetus deformity to terminate pregnancy till 24 weeks.

In case of pregnancy due to consensual relationship, termination of pregnancy is allowed only up to 20 weeks.
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What happened in Supreme Court  
The woman approached the Supreme Court then, which allowed the termination of pregnancy in July. And as the case involved a substantial question of law, the apex court took it up for further consideration.

During the course of hearing, Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati told the Supreme Court that the Rule 3B(c) extends to unmarried or single women who are in long-term relationships.

The government counsel said that the term “change of marital status” in Rule 3B(c) of MTP ought to be interpreted as “change in the status of a relationship” to include unmarried or single women as well as women who are not divorced but are separated or have been deserted.

She also told the court that “live-in relationships” are equivalent to marital relationships because in both types of relationships, the woman is entitled to maintenance.

The bench comprising justices DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna, and JB Pardiwala held that Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules cannot be interpreted in a restrictive manner to deny right of abortion to unmarried woman beyond 20 weeks. The court also said that doing so would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution –which promises the right to equality.

The apex court said that the benefit granted by Rule 3B of MTP ACT must be understood as extending to all women who undergo a “change of material circumstances”.

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First Published: Sep 30 2022 | 7:00 AM IST

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