From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : MRTP Act
Mains level : Global abortion debate
The Supreme Court has said it may loosen the restrictive grip of a 51-year-old abortion law that bars unmarried women from terminating pregnancies up to 24 weeks old.
What is the news?
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971 and its Rules of 2003 prohibit unmarried women who are between 20 weeks and 24 weeks pregnant to abort with the help of registered medical practitioners.
What did the Court say now?
- In a very significant move, the court said that the prohibition was manifestly arbitrary and violative of women’s right to bodily autonomy and dignity.
- The danger to life is as much in the case of an unmarried woman as in the case of a married woman said Justice Chandrachud.
- The danger of suffering a mental breakdown is much more prominent for unmarried women, said the court.
- A woman’s right to reproductive choice is an inseparable part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
- She has a sacrosanct right to bodily integrity, the court quoted from precedents.
- The court said forcing a woman to continue with her pregnancy would not only be a violation of her bodily integrity but also aggravate her mental trauma.
Indispensable clause of safety
- The court ordered a medical board to be formed by the AIIMS to check whether it was safe to conduct an abortion on the woman and submit a report in a week.
What is the case?
- A Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was hearing the appeal of a woman who wanted to abort her 24-week pregnancy after her relationship failed and her partner left her.
- The lower court had taken an “unduly restrictive view” that her plea for a safe abortion was not covered under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.
- This was since the pregnancy arose from a consensual relationship outside wedlock.
What was the last amendment?
- The court noted that an amendment to the Act in 2021 had substituted the term ‘husband’ with ‘partner’, a clear signal that the law covered unmarried women within its ambit.
Reiterating the live-in recognition
- Chastising the lower court, the Bench said live-in relationships had already been recognized by the Supreme Court.
- There were a significant number of people in the social mainstream who see no wrong in engaging in pre-marital sex.
- The law could not be used to quench “notions of social morality” and unduly interfere in their personal autonomy and bodily integrity.
Back2Basics: Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act
- Abortion in India has been a legal right under various circumstances for the last 50 years since the introduction of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971.
- The Act was amended in 2003 to enable women’s access to safe and legal abortion services.
- Abortion is covered 100% by the government’s public national health insurance funds, Ayushman Bharat and Employees’ State Insurance with the package rate for surgical abortion.
The idea of terminating your pregnancy cannot originate by choice and is purely circumstantial. There are four situations under which a legal abortion is performed:
- If continuation of the pregnancy poses any risks to the life of the mother or mental health
- If the foetus has any severe abnormalities
- If pregnancy occurred as a result of failure of contraception (but this is only applicable to married women)
- If pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or rape
These are the key changes that the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, has brought in:
- The gestation limit for abortions has been raised from the earlier ceiling of 20 weeks to 24 weeks, but only for special categories of pregnant women such as rape or incest survivors. But this termination would need the approval of two registered doctors.
- All pregnancies up to 20 weeks require one doctor’s approval. The earlier law, the MTP Act 1971, required one doctor’s approval for pregnancies upto 12 weeks and two doctors’ for pregnancies between 12 and 20 weeks.
- Women can now terminate unwanted pregnancies caused by contraceptive failure, regardless of their marital status. Earlier the law specified that only a “married woman and her husband” could do this.
- There is also no upper gestation limit for abortion in case of foetal disability if so decided by a medical board of specialist doctors, which state governments and union territories’ administrations would set up.