It was an instance where the Indian judiciary proved itself more progressive than many western democracies. In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court on Thursday declared that single women, of any category, with pregnancies are entitled to safe and legal abortion care just as married women. Indian woman would be her own orbiter of her body, the momentous judgment said. In a country where the woman’s body has been seen as a site of the patriarchy index, the SC recognized her right to equality and freedom to choose her agency and choice.
Even in the US, the landmark judgment in Roe Vs Wade case on the Constitutional validity to the right to abort was recently overturned. In contrast, Indian apex court said women are free to make their choice. The decision on the familial and conjugal violence and the case of woman who conceived out of marital rape can also seek abortion within the specific period of 24 weeks. The three-judge Bench, led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud has done away with the restrictive grip of a 51-year old abortion law which barred unmarried women from terminating pregnancies that are up to 24 weeks. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, prohibits unmarried women who are pregnant between 20 and 24 weeks to abort with the help of qualified physicians. “The rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity and privacy give an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on a similar footing as that of a married woman,” said Justice Chandrachud in an order on a petition filed by a person who chose to remain anonymous. The existing discrimination between married and unmarried women would go.
Implementation of this order is crucial since the judgment says specifically that its (order’s) validity would be only within the purview of the MTP (Amendment) Act, 2021 which introduced important changes including the right to terminate unwanted pregnancies caused by contraceptive failure. In calling for a less restrictive regime and liberal interpretation of the amendments further freeing women from social conservatism, the SC has done a great favour to the women by giving them more freedom which they richly deserve. In fact, it is their right. Can we expect the Parliament to be equally progressive and remove all kinds of restrictions by making necessary laws to make this order easily implementable by removing restrictions? Beside Justice Chandrachud, Justices Surya Kant and AS Bopanna, who were part of the Bench, deserve unqualified gratitude of Indian women.