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:
- 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
- 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.