In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court on Thursday observed that women, irrespective of their marital status, are entitled to safe abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy. The three-member bench comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala and AS Bopanna, interpreting the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, said the distinction between married and unmarried women under the law is “artificial and constitutionally unsustainable”. They extended their ruling to victims of rape, including marital rape, for the purpose of the MTP Act and rules.
The court said women who conceived due to forced sex by their husbands will come under the ambit of “survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest” mentioned in Rule 3B(a) of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules. The court, however, clarified that the meaning of rape must be understood as including marital rape solely for the purpose of the MTP Act.
Defining what constitutes marital rape under MTP Act, the court was quoted as saying by Live Law: “Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape. The ordinary meaning of the word rape is sexual intercourse with a person without consent or against their will. Regardless of whether such forced intercourse occurs in the context of matrimony, a woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sexual intercourse performed upon by her husband”.
The court also acknowledged sexual violence perpetuated by what it called an intimate partner.
The court said that the misconception that only strangers are responsible for sex and gender-based violence is “deeply regrettable”.
It said that sexual and gender violence in all forms in the context of the family have “long formed a part of the lived experiences of women”.
The upper limit for the termination of pregnancy is 24 weeks for married women, special categories — including survivors of rape and other vulnerable women such as the differently-abled and minors; the corresponding window for unmarried women in consensual relationships is 20 weeks.
The apex court in its August judgment had questioned if a married woman is allowed to terminate up to 24 weeks of pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, and the Rules framed under it, why denying the same to unmarried women, even though the risk is the same for both.
With inputs from PTI, ANI