It’s a revolutionary day for women in India. The Supreme Court, in what is a milestone judgement, ruled that all women irrespective of their married or unmarried status, are entitled to seek an abortion for up to 24 weeks of pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP). This comes, fortuitously, right after International Safe Abortion day.
“If Rule 3B(c) is understood as only for married women, it would perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual activities. This is not constitutionally sustainable. The artificial distinction between married and unmarried women cannot be sustained. Women must have the autonomy to have free exercise of these rights,” said Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, the presiding judge of the bench, as reported by Live Law.
The landmark verdict was the result of a petition by a 25-year-old unmarried woman who appealed against a Delhi High Court order stating that she is not entitled to abortion under the act as she was unmarried and the pregnancy followed a consensual relationship. The Supreme Court, today, in an uplifting judgement, has made a woman’s martial status irrelevant.
Last year, the government amended the act to allow several categories of women to seek abortion including rape survivors, minors, women with mental disabilities, women with foetuses that had major abnormalities and married women whose marital status had changed during the pregnancy. This year survivors of marital rape were also added to the list. “Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape. The ordinary meaning of the word rape is sexual intercourse with a person without consent or against their will.” Justice Chandrachud added.
Additionally, no longer will a rape survivor need to file an FIR to get an abortion nor will a minor need to disclose her identity, under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
Though marital rape is yet to be criminalised, its recognition as rape by the Supreme Court is historic. It comes at a time when there has been worldwide discourse on women’s reproductive rights after the U.S Supreme Court overturned the Roe Vs Wade ruling on June 24 this year, which gave constitutional abortion rights to American women. The heartbreaking news made us all question our own safety and rights under the Indian constitution.
Today’s verdict gives us back the autonomy over our bodies and instils a sense of safety that women have been seeking from the law for a while. We’re still at the beginning of a long road to true liberation, but after all these years of oppression and all the gender-based crimes, I think we might finally be in a better place, legally speaking at least.
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