This article examines the recent Supreme Court judgment regarding the right to abortion for
unmarried women in India. It highlights the significance of this ruling in the context of
reproductive rights and gender equality. The Supreme Court's decision has expanded access to
safe and legal abortions for unmarried women, recognizing their autonomy and right to make
decisions about their bodies and reproductive health.
The article explores the implications of this
judgment, including the potential impact on reducing unsafe abortions, protecting women's
health, and promoting gender equality. The article concludes by emphasizing the need for
continued advocacy and implementation of policies that protect and uphold the reproductive
rights of all women in India, ensuring their access to safe and legal abortion services.
The word abortion in its simplest way means 'termination of a pregnancy '. Abortion is a medical
procedure that is used to end a pregnancy so that it doesn't result in the birth of a child.
There are numerous methods available to women, either married or unmarried, who are
indulging in sexual activities with their partners to avoid pregnancy. Multiple ways to prevent
pregnancy are- contraceptive pills, contraceptive implants, contraceptive injections, male/female
condoms, diaphragm, sterilization, cervical cap, IUDs, etc.
However even after taking necessary
precautions if a woman gets pregnant then her right of choosing whether to keep or abort the
child should be given to her. It should be the decision of the woman and not the decision of the
society or doctors or government because, in a country like India where the roots of the whole
jurisdiction are based on freedom and democracy, it shouldn't fade just because of a woman
getting pregnant without marriage.
Justice D Y Chandrachud has very well said that including
married women and excluding unmarried ones will violate Article 14 of the Constitution. Article
14 of the Constitution of India deals with the freedom and rights of the people. Article 14 of the
Constitution of India reads: "The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law
or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India."
The recent Supreme Court judgment in India regarding the right to abortion has sparked
significant discussion, particularly concerning the rights of unmarried women and their choice
regarding their pregnancy. This article aims to explore the legal implications of granting the right
to abortion to unmarried women in India, highlighting the recent Supreme Court ruling and
supporting the argument with relevant case law.
It is an admirable and commendable decision by
the Supreme Court of India; a woman's marital status cannot be used to deny her the right to
terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and now all women will have access to safe and legal
abortion, which will protect their physical autonomy and dignity. It reflects India's progressive
outlook, while the United States has retracted on this issue. Prohibiting unmarried and single
women from obtaining an abortion while allowing married women to do so would have violated
the intent of the amendment.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971
The MTP Act, of 1971 was passed by the government of India due to the progress
made by the
medical science field to provide women with safe abortion measures and to
empower the women
by providing them with complete comprehensive abortion care.
The Key provisions of the MTP Act, of 1971 are as follows:
While the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act of 1971 in India brought about significant changes in abortion laws, there are a few cons associated with it. Here are some key points:
- It only applied to married women.
- Gestational age limit of 20 weeks for all indications.
- A doctor's opinion was required before the termination of the pregnancy, i.e. Opinion of one doctor was required for the termination till 12 weeks and the opinion of two doctors was required for the termination till 20 weeks.
- If the confidentiality of the woman who is undergoing the procedure of abortion is breached then the punishment in terms of a fine up to Rs 1000 is given.
- Limited time for abortion: The MTP Act says that abortions are usually not allowed after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except when the woman's life is at risk. This can be a problem because some problems with the baby may only be found later in pregnancy, and women may not have enough time to make a decision.
- Complicated rules: The rules for getting an abortion under the MTP Act are complicated. It involves getting opinions from different doctors and following legal procedures. This can make it hard for women to get an abortion quickly and safely.
- Lack of awareness: Many women and healthcare providers have limited awareness and understanding of the MTP Act, leading to inadequate implementation and accessibility of abortion services. This can result in women being denied their right to a safe and legal abortion.
- Social stigma and discrimination: Despite the legalization of abortion, social stigma and discrimination towards unmarried women seeking abortions persist. This can lead to judgment, shame, and reluctance to seek necessary healthcare services.
- Inadequate availability of services: Access to safe and legal abortion services can be limited in certain regions, particularly in rural areas, where healthcare facilities and trained providers may be scarce. This lack of accessibility can prevent women from exercising their right to safe abortion.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021
The MTP Amendment Act, 2021 expanded the rights of women empowering them with more
efficient rules and making it more safe and more secure for them to terminate unwanted
pregnancies keeping in mind the rapid increase of innovations and technologies.
The key provisions of the MTP Amendment Act, 2021 are as follows:
Supreme Court Judgment
- Unlike the MTP Act of 1971, the new amendment in the act covered unmarried and single women and girls.
- The Gestational age limit increased from 20 weeks to 24 weeks which included rape survivors and other vulnerable women.
- The opinion of one doctor is required if the termination of the pregnancy is performed within 12 weeks of conception and the opinion of two doctors is required if the termination of the pregnancy is performed within 20 to 24 weeks of conception.
- If the confidentiality of the women undergoing the procedure of termination of pregnancy is breached then a fine and/or imprisonment of 1 year shall be given.
In March 2023, the Supreme Court of India passed a landmark judgment affirming the
right to abortion as a fundamental right, irrespective of the marital status of a woman.
The court understood that having the ability to make decisions about one's reproductive choices
is important for a person's freedom and self-respect. This decision is a big step
forward in improving the rights of women and achieving equality between genders in the
Case Law: Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration 2009
(2009) 14 SCR 989, (2009) 9 SCC 1
The case of Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration is a notable example supporting the
right to abortion for unmarried women in India. In this case, the court held that women's right to
have a choice regarding their bodies is the right to liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution Of
India. Unmarried or single women have the right to choose to have an abortion. The court ruled
that it is important to respect the reproductive choices of unmarried women, just like married
The court believed that forcing unmarried women to continue a pregnancy against their
will would harm their well-being and go against their rights. This case was significant in
recognizing the equality and autonomy of unmarried women in making decisions about their
own bodies and reproductive health.
The court observed that imposing restrictions solely based
on marital status would be discriminatory and against the principles of equality enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
The court also emphasized that making an unmarried woman go through with a pregnancy she doesn't want would not only violate her rights but also put her physical and mental health at risk. It acknowledged that decisions about having children are very personal and should be made by the woman herself, free from any coercion or societal stigma.
There is no doubt that a woman's right to make reproductive choices is also a dimension of
'personal liberty' as understood under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Article 21 of the
Indian Constitution reads as follows: "Protection of Life and Personal Liberty: No person shall
be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law." This
article is available to every person residing in any part of the country.
It is important to recognize
that reproductive choices can be exercised to procreate as well as to abstain from procreating.
The crucial consideration is that a woman's right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity should
be respected. This means that there should be no restriction whatsoever on the exercise of
reproductive choices such as a woman's right to refuse participation in sexual activity or the
insistence on the use of contraceptive methods.
Case Law: Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors.
(2017) 10 SCC 1, AIR 2017 SC 4161
In the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors. The court
recognized that reproductive choice is personal liberty guaranteed under Article 21 of the Indian
constitution and also the constitutional right of the woman to make reproductive choices for
As Craig Lissner, acting Director for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Research at
WHO said "Being able to obtain safe abortion is a crucial part of health care. Nearly every death
and injury that results from unsafe abortion is entirely preventable. That's why we recommend
women and girls can access abortion and family planning services when they need them."
Abortion is safe in medical terms and women should be allowed to exercise their freedom rights
without any torture, abuse, or ill-treatment. Just like other medical treatments require care,
abortion should be treated the same. The women or girls don't matter if they're married or single,
if they want to prevent unwanted pregnancy then they should not go through any type of societal
pressure to keep the child because even the tiniest bit of pressure will lead to unsafe abortion
measures which they take to save themselves from society and defamation. The unsafe measures
to abort a child result in major health issues disturbing the mental health of the person. Many
girls and women end up giving up their lives because of societal pressure.
Keeping in mind the health of the female population of the world, women should have the
freedom to make decisions for themselves, including about having children. It doesn't matter if
someone is married or not, they should still have the right to choose what they want and act
accordingly. This also helps in maintaining equality amongst the genders, assuring the females
that they have the same rights as everyone else. Giving unmarried and single women the right to
abortion promotes a society that respects personal freedom, gives respect, and believes in
fairness for everyone without discrimination.
The first recommendation would be the removal of unnecessary policies which women have to
go through during the abortion procedure. There shouldn't be a requirement for further
permissions when the woman has given the permission herself. The whole procedure of taking
permission from the family members or the guardians can be very harassing and abusive for the
woman which might affect her mental health and the delay in the abortion can also affect the
physical health of the woman.
The second recommendation would be to keep the abortion procedure private for the sake of the
respect and dignity of the individual undergoing the procedure of abortion. This will help the
women and girls in maintaining their mental health.
The third recommendation would be teaching the girls and women about sexual activities
providing them with good-quality contraceptive information and services.
The fourth recommendation would be to set up proper pre and post-abortion care centers so that
women and girls who don't have a family or a home to go to can seek help from the care centers
without any problem. The post-abortion care should be available to every woman and girl.
The fifth recommendation would be decriminalization. Decriminalization is a very necessary
step toward legalizing abortion. It would also help in ensuring women and girls that whoever
experiences pregnancy loss doesn't fall under the suspicion of illegal abortion.
In conclusion, the recent Supreme Court judgment and the case law discussed serve as guiding
principles for policymakers and legislators to ensure that unmarried women in India have access
to safe and legal abortion services. Legalizing abortion for unmarried and single women and girls
is crucial for ensuring their reproductive rights and overall well-being. By allowing access to
safe and legal abortion services, these women would have the autonomy to make decisions about
their bodies and future.
It would protect them from the physical and emotional risks of unsafe
abortions, reducing maternal mortality and morbidity rates. Legalization would also promote
equality by treating all women equally, regardless of their marital status. It would address the
existing social stigma surrounding unmarried pregnancies and provide a supportive environment
for women to seek appropriate healthcare.
Additionally, legalizing abortion for unmarried
women and girls would align with the principles of human rights, personal choice, and bodily
autonomy. Since it is proven that restrictions applied on abortion don't reduce the number of
abortions that take place in a country is solid proof that the government should not restrict
women from exercising their rights because mere restrictions results in driving the girls and
women toward risking their lives through unsafe abortion methods. Upholding these rights is a
significant step towards promoting gender equality and protecting the well-being of all women in
- Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration,(2009) 14 SCR 989,
(2009) 9 SCC 1,Privacy Library ,available at,
- Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) & Anr. vs. Union of India & Ors.,(2017)
10 SCC 1, AIR 2017 SC 4161,Privacy Library, available at, https://privacylibrary.ccgnlud.org/case/justice-ks-puttaswamy-ors-vs-union-of-india-ors