Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Plea On Women's Full Right To Abort Pregnancy At Any Stage
On July 16, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a PIL (Public Interest Litigation) which gives full right to women to choose whether or not to continue with their pregnancy. It opposes the “harsh restrictions” imposed by the “archaic” Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP), 1971, on a woman’s right to abort.
The petitioners Swati Agarwal, Garima Sekseria and Prachi Vats, with their advocate Sanskriti Pathak, brought the matter to the attention of the bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta.
The court heard the petition which provided statistics about the legal position of other countries on termination of pregnancy and opposed India’s law considering it violates the right to life of women in India through the 50-year-old MTP Act.
Before the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MPT) Act 1971, abortion was considered a crime for which both, the mother and the abortionist were to be punished exception where it had to be carried out to save the life of the mother.
Eventually, the MPT Act was introduced as a ‘health measure’.
This act permits abortion in cases of risk to the health of the woman, humanitarian reasons- pregnancy due to sex crimes like rape or intercourse with a lunatic woman. Other reasons include: when there is a substantial risk that the child will be born with deformities or diseases. The act also includes a 20-week bar, according to which it restricts the termination of pregnancy beyond 20 weeks by any doctor.
Under the MPT act, a woman can terminate her under 12-week-old pregnancy only if a registered medical practitioner certifies the continuance of such pregnancy as risky or a threat to the life of the woman or in a case where the foetus is abnormal.
If the pregnancy exceeds the 12 weeks and is less than 20 weeks, the termination will require an opinion of two registered medical practitioners while the other factors remain the same.
Arguments By Petitioners
Pathak argued, “The right to exercise reproductive choice is the right to choose whether to conceive and carry a pregnancy to its full term or to terminate is it at the core of one’s privacy, dignity, personal autonomy, bodily integrity, self-determination and right to health recognised by Article 21 of the Constitution,”
“The state cannot compel a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will when the continuance of pregnancy entails physical, mental and socio-economic consequences which far outweigh the consequences that may ensue on termination of pregnancy. She should have the right to choose a course which is less disadvantageous to her.” the petitioners stated while referring to an explanation to Section 3(2) of the MTP Act.
As put by the petitioners, “An unwanted and unplanned pregnancy will invariably cause graver consequences to unmarried women.”
Regulations In Other Countries
Giving the statistics of several countries that provide free choice to women to request abortion at various ages of the foetus, Pathak pointed out how Canada permits abortion at any stage and China, Netherlands and Australia prescribe 24 months. She also mentioned that Vietnam allows abortion until 22 weeks.
The petitioners cited multiple instances where women had to move to the SC for termination of their pregnancies, which were more than 20 weeks period, on detection of abnormality of foetus.
Two bills of 2014 and 2017, proposing to increase the time period allowing termination of pregnancy to 24 weeks, are still pending.