Civil society groups are hailing the Supreme Court’s “progressive” order on abortion, coming at a time when women’s reproductive health is under threat in other parts of the globe.

In a historic judgment, the apex court said all women were entitled to a safe and legal abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, and any distinction between married and unmarried women would be unconstitutional. The judgment also allowed termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks. The court was hearing a petition of a 25-year-old single woman, whose plea to terminate her 24-week pregnancy was denied by the Delhi High Court.

‘Ray of hope’

VS Chandrashekar, Campaign Advisory Group (CAG) member with the Pratigya Campaign, said that striking down the distinction between married and unmarried women’s access to abortion care was indeed progressive. “At a time when sexual and reproductive health and rights are under threat globally, this progressive judgement stands out as a ray of hope.”

An independent lawyer, Anubha Rastogi, also a CAG member with Pratigya Campaign, said the judgement also questions unreasonable classifications made under the law. This interpretation is the law of the land and will ensure that single women seeking MTP beyond 20 weeks are not denied their rights on grounds of the narrowness of the law.

The Population Foundation of India also welcomed the order. “The law must recognise abortion as a woman’s choice, as is the practice in over 70 countries,” Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of Population Foundation of India, said. “We need to ensure our laws don’t reflect any moral judgment on women who choose to abort,”she added.

“We must also address the fact that regardless of its legal status, abortion facilities are inaccessible to a large chunk of our population. After last year’s amendment, the termination of pregnancy can be performed only by doctors with a gynaecology or obstetrics specialisation. According to the Rural Health Statistics (2019-20), released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in May 2021, there is a shortfall of almost 70 per cent for obstetricians and gynecologists. This severely limits women’s access to safe abortion services.” she said. Besides, since a majority of abortions are performed in the private sector, Muttreja cautioned, it results in high costs, making the service inaccessible for marginalised communities.