October 29, 2022
“Abortion isn't a lesser evil, it's a crime. Taking one life to save another, that's what the Mafia does. It's a crime. It's an absolute evil.” - Pope Francis
“The greatest destroyer of peace is abortion because if a mother can kill her own child, what is left for me to kill you and you to kill me? There is nothing between.” - Mother Teresa
“You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion.” - Hillary Clinton
Abortion is a subject on which many hold violently opposed views and others with ‘ifs’ and “buts” as reflected in the three quotes above. But, the Supreme Court judgment on the subject, delivered on September 29, 2022, and widely covered in the media, is hailed as progressive as it entitles all women a right to safe and legal abortion along with an emphasis on their right to bodily autonomy without authorisation from third party.
The historic judgment of the Supreme Court Bench led by Justice D Y Chandrachud that unmarried women in a consensual relationship are also entitled to safe abortion along with its strong emphasis on women’s right to bodily autonomy without the need for authorisation from a third-party to access abortion was welcomed as progressive and a ray of hope at a time sexual and reproductive rights have come under threat globally.
“This ruling interprets the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 in a progressive manner and questions the unreasonable classification made by this law. This interpretation is the law of the land and will ensure that single women seeking abortion beyond 20 weeks cannot be refused on the grounds of the narrowness of the law,” said a leading lawyer.
The SC judgment followed a petition seeking inclusion of unmarried women within the ambit of Rule 3 B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules 2003 amended in October 2021 for abortion between 20-24 weeks of gestation period. The rule defines seven different categories of women who could access abortion within this gestation period, including survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest, minors and women with change of marital status during an ongoing pregnancy. Such women have to obtain permission from two doctors, who have to be of the opinion that the continuance of the pregnancy could either risk the life of the woman, or the child. For an abortion up to 20 weeks, permission from one doctor is sufficient.
The court also liberally interpreted Section 3 B and said a variety of changes in “material circumstances” could be grounds for seeking abortion between 20-24 weeks such as when “a woman loses her job or if domestic violence is perpetrated against her or if she suddenly has dependents to support” or when she is “diagnosed with an acute or chronic or life-threatening disease which impacts her decision on whether to carry the pregnancy to term.”
The Population Foundation of India recommends increasing the gestation period for all women as medical technology advancements have shown that abortion beyond 20 weeks is safe and certain foetal abnormalities can only be detected after 20 weeks.
One critical question remains to be answered. Is it the job of judiciary to reform deficient laws through judgments and forcing the individuals to take judicial route?
The subject is open to many views. What are yours? Your response is welcome in the format given below (Pl stream down a bit). Welcome to reason again.