A woman whose live-in relationship has ended should be given the same right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy as a widow or divorced woman, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday, indicating that it would interpret the law to include “unmarried women” or “single women” under provisions that allow abortions up to 24 weeks.
The court made the observations while hearing a plea by a 25-year-old woman who challenged the 20-week minimum limit under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971, which applies to unmarried women seeking termination of pregnancy. The woman said she was abandoned by her partner.
A bench observed, “Going by the legislative intent, a widow has lost the support of her life partner and in divorce too, there is loss of support from a life partner. This logic will equally apply to a woman who has been abandoned.”
The court reserved its order, indicating that its order would interpret the law to include “unmarried” or “single” women in the category in question. The specified interval was in Rule 3B(c) of the MTP Rules, 2003 which allows women undergoing a change in marital status during pregnancy through widowhood or divorce. It is to terminate the pregnancy up to 24 weeks.
The bench added, “Take a case where a married woman is neither divorced nor widowed but deserted. She is cast away and has no source of livelihood. Should the law be understood to mean that because she is technically not divorced, she cannot have the right to abort her pregnancy?”
For unmarried women, the judges said, “For the purpose of a woman’s mental health, both actual and foreseeable factors have to be borne in mind. A woman on is deserted faces foreseeable difficulties. Such a situation where a woman is abandoned will apply to both married and unmarried women.”
Additional solicitor general (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati said, “It becomes more vulnerable for an unmarried woman to survive after desertion as a woman who is married falls back on families but in a live-in relationship, not every time the family is supportive of the woman’s decision.”
The bench concluded, “Why should we not say that such a right be extended up to 24 weeks as all women are equally circumstanced to suffer the same mental agony of an unwanted pregnancy due to failure of the birth control device.”