The Supreme Court on Thursday observed that a woman must not be denied rights just because she is unmarried while allowing a 25-year-old unwed woman to abort her foetus if there is no threat to her life. Allowing the petitioner to suffer an unwanted pregnancy goes against the intent and spirit of the legislation, the court added.
The bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud held that letting an unmarried woman suffer an unwanted pregnancy went would go against the parliamentary intent behind the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
A 25-year-old unwed woman moved the Supreme Court after the Delhi High Court on July 16 denied her plea to abort the pregnancy which was just shy of 24 weeks at the time. The apex court on Thursday set aside this order after observing that the high court had taken an "unduly restrictive" view while interpreting the legislation's intent.
Delhi High Court Chief Justice-led bench on July 16 had denied the unwed woman permission to abort the foetus after observing that a pregnancy arising out of a consensual relationship was outside the ambit of the 2003 Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Rules.
The high court instead had urged the woman to go through with the pregnancy and give up the child for adoption on its birth. Chief Justice Satish Chandra Sharma had even offered to pay for the expenses incurred.
Can't deny unmarried woman abortion rights: SC
The Supreme Court said a woman cannot be denied rights simply because she is unmarried. Allowing an unwed woman to suffer an unwanted pregnancy will be contrary to the object and spirit of the legislation," the Supreme Court bench observed.
The Supreme Court pointed out that the 2021 amendment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act included the term "partner" instead of "husband" to conclude that the legislature intended to include "unmarried woman" under the Act.
"The use of words 'woman or her partner' shows an intention to cover unmarried woman which is in consonance with Article 14 of the Constitution," the Supreme Court said.
"We are of the view that allowing the petitioner to suffer an unwanted pregnancy will go against the parliamentary intent and the benefits under the Act cannot be denied to her only on the basis of her being unmarried. The distinction between a married and an unmarried woman has no nexus to the object sought to be achieved by the Parliament," the bench said while dictating the order in open court.
The top court observed a change in marital status must be given a positive interpretation instead of the limited definition in the 2003 medical termination of pregnancy rules which only include widows or the divorced.
"Courts cannot be unmindful of the legislative intent behind the amendment to the Act which expressly contemplates unwanted pregnancy by the failure of method or device," the bench added.
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