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A Woman Cannot Be Denied Abortion Due To Being In An Unmarried And A Consensual Relationship Under Rule 3B Of The MTP Act

Yashvardhan Gullapalli ,
  23 July 2022       Share Bookmark

Court :
The Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Special Leave Appeal (C) No(S). 12612/2022; 21-07-2022

Case title:
X vs The Principal Secretary, Health & Family Welfare Department

Date of Order:
21-07-2022

Bench:
Justices D.Y. Chandrachud, Surya Kant, and A.S. Bopanna; 

Parties:
X – Petitioner
The Principal Secretary, Health & Family Welfare Department – Respondent 

SUBJECT 

The Supreme Court, while permitting an unmarried woman to pursue abortion of her pregnancy of a length of 24 weeks that resulted from a consensual relationship, stated that "Denying an unmarried woman the right to a safe abortion undermines her personal autonomy and freedom."

FACTS 

  • The petitioner is listed as a permanent Manipur resident who presently resides in Delhi. The petitioner claims that she was in a consensual relationship when she found out she was pregnant in June 2022.
  • An ultrasound on July 5, 2022, identified a single intrauterine pregnancy with a term of 22 weeks. The applicant made the decision to end the pregnancy.
  • The petitioner made the decision to abort the child; her relationship had ended. Her parents are farmers, and she has mentioned that she is the oldest of five siblings. According to the petitioner, who has a BA degree, she would be unable to care for and maintain a kid without a source of income.
  • She moved a writ application to the Division Bench of the Delhi High Court, which issued a statement exclusive to the prayer C submitted by the petitioner seeking to include the unmarried women under the demographic covered by Rule 3B of the MTP Rules. 
  • The prayers were summarily rejected by the Division Bench in the order dated 15/07/2022. According to the High Court, the petitioner's situation is "obviously not covered" by any of the aforementioned sections of Rule 3B because she is an unmarried woman whose pregnancy resulted from a consensual relationship. As a result, Section 3(2)(b) is not relevant.

PERUSAL BY APEX COURT (RULE 3B AND EXPLANATION 1)

  • Apart from the legality question that was raised before the High Court, it seems that the High Court has interpreted the terms of clause (c) of Rule 3B in an excessively restrictive manner. Clause (c) refers to a change in marital status while pregnancy is still ongoing, and the phrases "widowhood and divorce" are placed after it in parenthesis. 
  • It is preferable to interpret the phrase "change of marital status" purposefully rather than narrowly. Widowhood and divorce should not be taken to be a full list of the category that comes before them.
  • The fundamental tenet of legal interpretation is that the terms of a statute must be understood in the context of the entire Act as well as in accordance with its general structure and the legislative intent. 
  • By revising the MTP Act with Act 8 of 2021, the  Parliament aimed to bring single and divorced women into the Act's purview. This is clear from the fact that under Explanation I of Section 3(2) of the Act, the word "spouse" has been changed to "partner."
  • Thus, it is obvious that the advantageous provisions of the MTP Act were not intended to be limited to just circumstances involving married relationships. On the other hand, using the phrase "any woman or her companion" would suggest that Parliament intended for it to have a broad meaning and intent. The law acknowledges a woman's right to choose her reproductive options as well as her autonomy and bodily integrity.

A WOMAN’S RIGHT TO HER OWN BODY 

  • In this matter, the petitioner claims that she suffered great mental anguish, trauma, and bodily pain since her spouse abandoned her at the very end, in June 2022. The intent of the law is violated if single and divorced women are not included in the scope of the law.

JUDGMENT 

  • The order went on to say that there was "no reason to deny unmarried women the right to legally end the pregnancy while the same choice is available to certain other categories of women."
  • "According to Article 21 of the Constitution, a woman's right to reproductive freedom is an integral aspect of her right to personal freedom. She has a right to maintain her physical integrity"The Court went on to say.
  • The option of a woman to have children or not has been acknowledged as a part of her right to live in dignity and the right to privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution in Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) and Anr v. Union of India and Ors.
  • There is no question that a woman's right to choose her reproductive options is a component of "personal liberty" as defined by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, which was declared in Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration. 
  • Recognizing that reproductive decisions can be made to either have children or not have children is crucial. The most important thing is to respect a woman's right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity. This indicates that there shouldn't be any limitations on a woman's ability to exercise her reproductive choices, such as the right to decline sexual activity or, conversely, the requirement to use contraceptives.

CONCLUSION 

Based on the aforementioned considerations, the court is inclined to consider the Special Leave Petition. It believes that enabling the petitioner to experience an unintended pregnancy would be against the spirit of the legislation passed by Parliament. In addition, if the Act is properly interpreted, permitting the petitioner to end her pregnancy fits within its purview, and the petitioner shouldn't be denied the benefit because she is an unmarried woman.

The disparity between married and single women has no bearing on the fundamental goal and purpose of Parliament, which is expressly stated in the clauses of Explanation 1 to Section 3 of the Act. Before her pregnancy had reached its full 24 weeks, the petitioner filed a case with the High Court. She cannot be harmed by the court process's delay.

Learn the practical aspects of CrPC HERE, CPC HERE, IPC HERE, Evidence Act HERE, Family Laws HERE, DV Act HERE

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