Historic decision

At a time when there is widespread outrage in the United States over its Supreme Court’s regressive decision to overturn the federal right to abortion, the Indian judiciary has earned kudos by unambiguously coming out in support of women’s right to reproductive health. In a landmark judgment, the Supreme Court has ruled that all women in the country, regardless of their marital status, can undergo abortion. This is a historic and progressive decision. The extension of the right to legal abortion to unmarried and single women is a significant victory for those fighting for women to make their own reproductive choices without interference from the state.

One of the signs of any progressive society is the extent of reproductive freedom that women enjoy. The SC bench, comprising Justices DY Chandrachud, JB Pardiwala and AS Bopanna, has rightly concluded that unmarried women have the same rights as their married counterparts. The distinction between married and unmarried women under the abortion laws is artificial and constitutionally unsustainable and perpetuates the stereotype that only married women are sexually active. On the issue of marital rape, the Supreme Court has taken the first step towards criminalising it by including marital rape survivors under the definition of sexual assault survivors who are eligible to terminate pregnancies beyond the 20-week deadline in the law. Access to safe and legal abortion and to quality post-abortion care, especially in cases of complications resulting from unsafe abortions, helps reduce maternal mortality rates, prevent adolescent and unwanted pregnancies and ensure women’s right to freely decide over their bodies.