A matter of right to all women – married or unmarried indiabusinessport.com

Planned parenthood and unwanted pregnancy has been a subject widely debated across the globe over many centuries. Even today, abortion is legal or fairly permitted in over 50 countries which includes underdeveloped, developing as well as developed countries. Increasingly and fairly, the act of abortion is not being looked upon as a standalone act and right of a woman, but it is conjoined with right to good health, medical support, life with dignity and much more. These are fundamental rights and therefore abortion per se must also be looked upon through the lens of fundamental rights of women. 

But then there are countries which even today that have stringent provisions, and some have banned abortion outrightly. Unfairly curtailing and imposing stringent procedures to opt for an abortion does amount to taking away the fundamental rights of women, and therefore the status of women as equals and as individuals is hampered to a large extent. 

In India the Indian Constitution forms the very foundation of all the laws that are in force in the territory of India.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India states that the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India. Article 21 of the Constitution says that no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law. But then even by 2022 Indian laws are still evolving in context to abortion, and women find it very difficult to enforce their fundamental rights.

Medical termination of Pregnancy Act

It took several decades for women to get their most basic right to good health and the freedom of choice as regards to what happens with their bodies when they are pregnant. 

The laws on abortion have evolved for centuries from the act of abortion being classified as a crime to what we now consider a boon in certain instances.

It was not until the year 1964 when the Central Government constituted the Shah Committee to investigate the social, cultural, legal and health implications of decriminalising abortion in India. The only reason this issue reached the top was due to the high maternal mortality rates from unsafe abortions.

The Shah Committee concluded by stating that the majority of women seeking abortions were married and under no socio-economic pressure to terminate their pregnancies which made it clear that this was a serious health hazard and hence recommended the decriminalisation of abortions, adding that it would save thousands of women’s lives. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) was thus drafted and passed by the Parliament in 1971.

The MTP Act allowed the termination of unwanted pregnancies for up to 12 weeks and with a second doctor’s approval, upto 20 weeks for special categories of women in the professional opinion of both the doctors.

Improvement in law related to MTP

With the growing number of fatalities, the MTP Act was not observed to have the impact it intended to have. In 2003, the Parliament amended the MTP Act to provide for better facilities and faster and safer access to abortions.

Some of the changes that the amendment brought were – Decentralised regulation of abortion facilities from the State level to district committees to allow faster and more efficient authorisation and setup of abortion facilities; and provision of punishment for running non-approved or unlicensed abortion facilities with up to seven years imprisonment.

The MTP Act was further amended in 2021 which further increased the gestation period from 20 weeks to 24 weeks to terminate the pregnancy for special categories of women with not less than two registered medical practitioners opining the same.

However, the main point of discrimination was that this was only in the case of married women. Section 3 Explanation II of the MTP Act clearly mentions that – ‘where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any married woman or her husband for the purpose of limiting the number of children, the anguish caused by such unwanted pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman’. Because the provision mentions the term ‘married woman’ and ‘husband’, it excludes unwanted pregnancies in unmarried women especially when the provision is beneficial to the latter more than what it could be to the former. 

A direct consequence of the aforesaid, it has been observed that loads of cases of termination of such pregnancies have reached the Apex Court because of the hurdle created by explicit mention of these terms. 

The Judicial view on MTP

A recent landmark verdict (September 2022) of the Supreme Court expanded interpretation of beneficiaries of the MTP Act to include both “married and unmarried women across all genders including trans women”.

This development has been welcomed widely for being favourable to so many women who have had to struggle for their most fundamental right of access to medical assistance. Considering the principles which the framers of Indian Constitution have laid down, the Supreme Court verdict is in line with the Fundamental rights of Equality, Life and Liberty, and therefore has been praised for from almost all quarters as it is benefitting all women, irrespective of their gender (including trans women) and marital status.

The whole motive behind the MTP Act was to provide for women’s health and safety in cases of unwanted pregnancies and pregnancies which are a health hazard to the mother or the new-born for whatever reasons. In context to instances of pregnancies being reported out of offences such as rape, the logic behind the law is to the rescue and prevent the victim women from social stigma, having to sacrifice their livelihoods and probable threats to their life and dignity which they are otherwise equally entitled to.


Many laws involving social subjects such as divorce, rights of transgenders, LGBTQ community, adultery, etc have evolved over a period of time, across the globe. The definitions are becoming more and more dynamic and inclusive. Judiciary also is appearing to be inclined towards interpreting the laws with a harmonious and favourable outlook which in turn keeps pace with progressive and always transforming nature of human race.

Related Acts also such as Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technics Act, 1994, (PCPNDT Act) and other laws also have some outdated provisions, strict requirement of procedures and documentation, which are not only appearing oppressive and amiss with the objective of the whole purpose of the law.

We cannot ignore the fact that Indian society has progressed in its character and one of the indicators is that this has resulted in India’s Female Infant Mortality rates falling drastically and faving dropped to the same levels as that of males (year 2020). Therefore, laws such as MTP Act and PCPNDT Act need a relook not just in context of the provisions, but about their objectives as well.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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