Why should unmarried women be deprived of benefits given to certain other categories: SC

August 06,2022

 The Supreme Court on Friday said it would carry out an interpretational correction in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act and the Rules thereunder to permit unmarried women abort 20-24 week-old unwanted pregnancy without compromising on safety regulation.

While Section 3 of MTP Act travels beyond conventional relationships based on marriage, Rule 3B of the MTP Rules does not envisage a situation involving unmarried women, but recognizes other categories of women such as divorcees, widows, minors, disabled and mentally ill women and survivors of sexual assault or rape.

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and J B Pardiwala, which had travelled beyond the law to allow an unwed Manipur girl to terminate her more than 24 week-old pregnancy subject to safety certification of experts in the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, said it would be discriminatory to bar an unmarried woman, who could have been exploited in a relationship or is vulnerable, to terminate her 20-24 week-old unwanted pregnancy when other similarly situated women were permitted to do so.

Appearing for the Centre, additional solicitor general Aishwarya Bhati said the law allows every woman to terminate her unwanted pregnancy till 20 weeks and said that the legislature had taken a conscious view in consultation with experts to limit it to specified categories when the fetus is 20-24 week.

The bench found a chink in the Rules and said it provided that it allowed a married woman to terminate her 20-24 week-old pregnancy if it resulted from failure of family planning device or protection to save her from mental agony.

“If we say mental agony as a ground would be available to all women irrespective of their marital status, then the Rule would no longer be restrictive. The legislature’s intent is quite clear as they mention ‘partner’ in relation to pregnancy and not stipulate marriage as a validating point of pregnancy. If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant because of failure of a protective device, why should she be deprived of the benefits already given to certain categories of women? There is no logic for this as it deprives the women of their dignity and autonomy in making a choice on motherhood,” the bench said.

It asked Bhati to submit written submissions on this issue and posted the case for hearing on August 16.