Delhi: In a significant reaffirmation of women's autonomy over their bodies, the Supreme Court, led by Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan, underscored that the decision to undergo an abortion rests solely with a woman. The court's stance came in response to a 25-year-old rape survivor's plea for pregnancy termination. The survivor's case, initially denied by the Gujarat High Court, was urgently heard by the apex court.
Trauma Of Rape And Reproductive Autonomy
The bench emphasized the perpetuation of trauma when a survivor is compelled to carry and give birth to a child conceived through sexual assault. It emphasized that each woman's right to independent reproductive decisions, free from state interference, is central to human dignity. The court stated, "The right of every woman to make reproductive choices without undue interference from the state is central to the idea of human dignity."
The court noted that denying access to reproductive healthcare not only jeopardizes a woman's physical and emotional well-being but also infringes upon her dignity. To support its position, the court referred to landmark cases like Suchitra Srivastava (2009), which affirmed that a woman's reproductive choices are an integral part of her personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.
Precedent And Rulings
The bench drew on cases like Murugan Nayakkar (2017) and Sarmishtha Chakraborty (2018). In these instances, the Supreme Court allowed the termination of pregnancy for a minor rape survivor and a woman with a severely abnormal fetus, respectively.
The court's decision aligns with a 2022 judgment that recognized an unmarried woman's right to abortion in a live-in relationship, based on the 2021 amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
The court clarified that women do not need to seek their family's consent for an abortion, and doctors cannot impose extra-legal conditions. Guardians' consent is required only for minors or women with mental illness. The court quoted a 2022 judgment, emphasizing that a woman alone has the ultimate decision-making authority over her body.
The verdict stemmed from an urgent plea by an Adivasi woman from a remote Gujarat village. She alleged rape under false marriage pretenses and was turned away by the Gujarat High Court. Despite medical endorsement of her fitness for abortion, she approached the Supreme Court. The petitioner's pregnancy had advanced to nearly 28 weeks.