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regular-article-logo Thursday, 29 February 2024

Far Ahead: Editorial on SC's historic ruling on abortion

This was also the first judgment in which the apex court reportedly acknowledged marital rape

The Editorial Board Published 30.09.22, 02:54 AM
The Supreme Court’s judgment on abortion rights may have given Indian women more to hope for.

The Supreme Court’s judgment on abortion rights may have given Indian women more to hope for. Representational picture

The Supreme Court of India has demonstrated in recent times what women’s autonomy should mean. It permitted a woman to terminate her pregnancy when her live-in relationship broke down. Yesterday, in a progressive judgment, the Supreme Court ruled that all women had the right to abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act; any distinction between married and unmarried women in this regard was artificial and constitutionally unsustainable. The ruling would come as relief to thousands of unmarried women who are not rape survivors but are just sexually active. This may have been what the court indicated when it reportedly said that law must evolve with the times. Against the hurdles to legal abortion throughout the world, reportedly making 67 per cent of abortions in India unsafe, this judgment was striking in its clarity and justness. A woman’s autonomy over her body was also reproductive autonomy, a principle Indian society ignores. But contraception, the number of children and abortion should be decisions taken without considering social factors. While the United States of America remains largely tilted against abortion, many other countries often permit abortion after assessments of the effects of pregnancy on the woman’s mental and physical state. China’s permissiveness, meanwhile, is tied in with its population policies. The Supreme Court here ruled that there would be no need to prove rape before an external forum for the purposes of the MTP Act. This exemplifies the freedom to exercise rights, something courts in many other countries seem reluctant about.

This was also the first judgment in which the Supreme Court reportedly acknowledged marital rape. Although the court directed that marital rape should be included in the definition of rape only within the purview of the MTP Act, it did articulate the horror of a woman being forced to raise a child with a spouse who subjects her to mental and physical harm. The framing of the offence seems limited, but the reported references to intimate partner violence and the possibility of non-consensual sex in a consensual relationship may act as stepping stones to an understanding of marital rape in a misogynistic culture that believes, without always saying it, that male coercion alone can save the ‘sacred’ institution of marriage. The Supreme Court’s judgment on abortion rights may have given Indian women more to hope for.

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