New Delhi, Sep 29 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Thursday said the decision to carry the pregnancy to its full term or terminate it, is firmly rooted in the right to bodily autonomy and decisional autonomy of the pregnant woman.
A bench, headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, said the right to reproductive autonomy is closely linked with the right to bodily autonomy, which is the right to take decisions about one’s body, and the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy on a woman’s body as well as her mind cannot be understated.
“A mere description of the side effects of a pregnancy cannot possibly do justice to the visceral image of forcing a woman to continue with an unwanted pregnancy. Therefore, the decision to carry the pregnancy to its full term or terminate it is firmly rooted in the right to bodily autonomy and decisional autonomy of the pregnant woman,” said the bench, also comprising Justice A.S. Bopanna and J.B. Pardiwala.
The bench said the right to decisional autonomy also means that women may choose the course of their lives. Besides physical consequences, unwanted pregnancies which women are forced to carry to term may have cascading effects for the rest of her life by interrupting her education, her career, or affecting her mental wellbeing, it added.
The top court said: “Article 21 of the Constitution recognises and protects the right of a woman to undergo termination of pregnancy if her mental or physical health is at stake. Importantly, it is the woman alone who has the right over her body and is the ultimate decisionmaker on the question of whether she wants to undergo an abortion.”
In its landmark judgment, the apex court expanded the scope of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and the corresponding rules to include unmarried women for abortion between 20-24 weeks of pregnancy. It said limiting the provision to cover only married women will render it discriminatory and violative of Article 14 of the Constitution.
The bench said after the amendment, the scheme of the MTP Act does not make a distinction between married and unmarried women for the purpose of medical termination of pregnancies. The amendment Bill was termed as a “progressive legislation” introduced to uphold women’s right to live with dignity, it added.
“If Rule 3B(c) was to be interpreted such that its benefits extended only to married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype and socially held notion that only married women indulge in sexual intercourse, and that consequently, the benefits in law ought to extend only to them. This artificial distinction between married and single women is not constitutionally sustainable. The benefits in law extend equally to both single and married women,” it said.
On July 21, the top court had allowed a 25-year-old to abort her 24-week pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship. In the judgment, the top court dealt with various aspects of the issue, including forced pregnancy. The woman had moved challenged the Delhi High Court, which refused to entertain her request to terminate her 24-week foetus, under Rule 3B, dealing with categories of women entitled to abortion, of the MTP Rules, 2003.
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