Tuesday, April 16, 2024
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SC recognizes marital rape, gives abortion right to single women


NEW DELHI : In the first legal recognition of “marital rape” under an Indian statute, the Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the pregnancy of a married woman due to forcible sex by her husband can be treated as “rape” under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act and that she can go for abortion without the requirement of anybody else’s consent. 

The SC interpreted the MTP Act to declare that even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks—like the married women, holding that the “artificial distinction between married and single women is not constitutionally sustainable” since it is not only in direct conflict with a woman’s reproductive rights but would also perpetuate the stereotype that only married women indulge in sexual intercourse. 

Delivering a path-breaking verdict on the right to reproductive autonomy supported by the right to access safe and legal abortion, a bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud also directed that identity of a minor, who becomes pregnant after “consensual” sex, need not be disclosed by a medical practitioner to the police or in any criminal proceedings under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. POCSO obligates doctors to inform the police when a minor approaches for abortion through her guardian since sex with a minor is a crime. The court said the protection of a minor’s identity on a request made by her or her guardian would strike a balance between the legal requirement to inform the police about an offence under POCSO and the minor’s rights to privacy and reproductive autonomy.

The court dwelled upon various aspects of the MTP Act and the corresponding rules to state that “the rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy under Article 21 of the Constitution give an unmarried woman the right of choice on whether or not to bear a child, on a similar footing of a married woman.” The bench was adjudicating the validity of a provision in the Act that does not allow a single woman to go for abortion after 20 weeks, while divorcees, widows and some other categories of women are permitted termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks on account of injuries to mental health and some other hardship, including rape.


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