The law on abortion, and what it means for unmarried women

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The law on abortion, and what it means for unmarried women

  • A 25-year-old pregnant woman moved to SC seeking an abortion after Delhi HC declined her plea.

Background of the Case:

  • Woman has challenged Rule 3B of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, which allows only some categories of women to seek termination of pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks.
  • It has raised questions about framework of reproductive rights, and recognising female autonomy and agency in India.

Indian Abortion Laws:

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  • Section 312 of IPC, 1860, criminalises voluntarily “causing miscarriage” even if it is with pregnant woman’s consent.
  • Except when miscarriage is to save woman’s life.
  • As per 2021 Act, for 20-24 week pragnency, eligible categories of women:
  • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest
  • Minors
  • widowhood and divorce during ongoing pregnancy
  • Women with physical disabilities
  • Mentally ill women including mental retardation
  • Foetal malformation with substantial risk of incompatiblity with life
  • Pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or government-declared emergency.
  • Law recognises change in circumstances of relationship status but it does not envisage situation for unmarried women.

Why does the legislation have this gap?

  • 1971 Act was enacted with a moralistic lens putting married women in focus.
  • 2021 amendment has not changed that view.
  • Legislators were concerned that liberal abortion law would promote sexual promiscuity amongst women.
  • MTP is not a legislation focussed on women and their reproductive rights.
  • It draws red lines that medical practitioners cannot cross while performing abortions.


  • MTP Act shield RMP from criminal liability, and does not centre pregnant woman’s needs, reproductive autonomy, and agency.
  • Access to abortion is not at the will of the pregnant woman.
  • It is a highly regulated procedure where law transfers decision-making power from pregnant woman to RMP.