In a historic judgment, the Supreme Court declared that single women with pregnancies between 20 and 24 weeks are entitled to access the same safe and legal abortion care as married women.
- The judgment came in an appeal by a person who wanted to terminate her pregnancy before her term completed 24 weeks.
- The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 prohibits unmarried women who are between 20 and 24 weeks’ pregnant to abort with the help of registered doctors.
- The Supreme Court held that the rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity and privacy give an unmarried woman the right of choice as to whether or not to bear a child on a similar footing as that of a married woman
- Registered medical doctors are exempt from disclosing to the police the identity of minors who have come in for abortion, the Supreme Court directed in a judgment.
- A registered medical practitioner (RMP) is obliged under Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act to report to the police when a minor approaches him or her for an abortion.
- In many cases minors and their guardians opt to go to an unqualified doctor for abortion rather than risk being involved in criminal proceedings following a report under Section 19(1) of the POCSO Act.
- If there is an insistence on the disclosure of the name of the minor in the report under Section 19(1) of POCSO, minors may be less likely to seek out RMPs for safe termination of their pregnancies under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.
- The court said it was necessary to harmonise the provisions of the MTP and POCSO laws to enable minors to approach an RMP for abortion without the fear of getting exposed.
- It would also protect the statutory obligation of the RMP to report the offence under the POCSO Act and the rights of privacy and reproductive autonomy of the minor under Article 21 of the Constitution.