SC moots verdict for ‘Bodily Autonomy

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SC moots verdict for ‘Bodily Autonomy

  • The Supreme Court may loosen the restrictive grip of a 51-year-old abortion law that bars unmarried women from terminating pregnancies up to 24 weeks old.
  • 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?

  • 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.
  • The danger of suffering a mental breakdown is much more prominent for unmarried women.

Earlier observations

  • 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?

  • 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.