Social Issues

Abortion legal for single women, marital rape survivors: India’s top court

New Delhi, Sep 29 (EFE).- The Indian Supreme Court on Thursday held that the country’s abortion law, which allows the termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks, includes single women, apart from clarifying that the scenario of marital rape should also be included in the law.

“This artificial distinction between married and single women is not constitutionally sustainable. The benefits in law extend equally to both single and married women,” a three-member bench of the court, constituted by judges DY Chandrachud, AS Bopanna and JB Pardiwala, said in its verdict.

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1971, which was especially aimed at married women, was amended last year for the government to allow abortions in different scenarios for women who are between 20-24 weeks pregnant.

As per the reformed law, abortion can be allowed for rape survivors, women with disability, minors and women whose marital status changes during pregnancy – for example due to divorce or husband’s death – on the condition of favorable opinion by two doctors.

Thursday’s court decision clarified that the reformed law did not distinguish between married and single women, and can also include single women in consensual relationships.

The Supreme Court overturned an earlier decision by the Delhi High Court, which had denied the right to abortion to a 25-year-old single women, who had been 22-weeks pregnant and her partner had refused to marry her.

The High Court had held that her case was not covered under the law.

However, the top court said that the term “change of marital status” ought to be interpreted as “change in the status of a relationship” to include unmarried or single women as well as women who are not divorced but are separated or have been deserted.

The bench also declared that within the law, the scenario of rape should also include marital rape, an important pronouncement as rape within a marriage is not a crime in Indian law.

The court clarified that the this definition of rape was limited for the purpose of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act.

In May, the Delhi High Court had refused to criminalize marital rape in a divided verdict over the validity of Article 375 of the Criminal Code, which provides immunity to the husband over sex with his wife – even if it is not consensual – as long as she is above the age of 18. EFE


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