India’s highest court on Thursday upheld a woman’s right to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy regardless of marital status, a decision widely praised by women’s rights activists.
The right to abortion has proved controversial worldwide after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized proceedings in the United States, in June.
“Even an unmarried woman can have an abortion for up to 24 weeks, just like married women,” said Indian Supreme Court judge DY Chandrachud, who ruled a woman’s marital status could not decide her right to an abortion.
A law from 1971, the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP)had limited the proceedings to married women, divorcees, widows, minors, “disabled and mentally ill women” and survivors of sexual assault or rape.
“The decision whether or not to have an abortion is based on complicated living conditions, which only the woman can choose on her own terms without outside interference or influence,” the court said.
It added that every woman should have “reproductive autonomy” to request an abortion, without consulting a third party.
Thursday’s decision came in response to a petition from a woman who said her pregnancy was the result of a consensual relationship but that she had requested an abortion when the relationship failed.
The ruling is a milestone for Indian women’s rights, activists say.
“It’s a first step, it’s a progressive step,” said Yogita Bhayana, founder of PARI (People Against Rapes in India).
The court added that sexual assault by spouses can be classified as marital rape under the MTP law. Indian law does not consider marital rape a criminal offense, although efforts are being made to change this.
“In an era that includes Dobbs vs. Jackson and distinguishes between marital status of women who are raped, this excellent judgment on abortion under the MTP law knocks the park out,” Karuna Nundy, an advocate who specializes in gender justice and other areas, said on Twitter.
She was referring to the case that led to the US Supreme Court ruling in June.