In a significant move towards recognizing women's autonomy over their bodies, the Supreme Court of India, led by Justices BV Nagarathna and Ujjal Bhuyan, reaffirmed that the decision to undergo an abortion solely rests with a woman. This landmark decision came in response to the plea of a 25-year-old rape survivor seeking permission for pregnancy termination. The survivor's case, initially dismissed by the Gujarat High Court, received prompt attention from the apex court.
Addressing the Trauma of Rape and Reproductive Autonomy: The bench shed light on the additional trauma experienced by a survivor when forced to carry and give birth to a child conceived through sexual assault. It emphasized that each woman's right to make independent reproductive choices, free from state interference, is pivotal to upholding human dignity.
The court articulated, "A woman's right to make reproductive decisions without undue interference from the state is a fundamental aspect of human dignity."
The court pointed out that denying access to reproductive healthcare not only effects a woman's physical and emotional well-being but also encroaches upon her dignity. To clarify its stance, the court referred to significant cases like Suchitra Srivastava (2009), which asserted that a woman's reproductive choices are an integral component of her personal liberty as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution.
Building on Precedents and Past Rulings: The bench drew upon cases such as Murugan Nayakkar (2017) and Sarmishtha Chakraborty (2018). In these instances, the Supreme Court granted permission for pregnancy termination in cases involving a minor rape survivor and a woman with a fetus displaying severe abnormalities, respectively.
The court's decision aligns seamlessly with a 2022 judgment that acknowledged the right of unmarried women in live-in relationships to undergo abortion, in accordance with the 2021 amendment to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971.
The court further clarified that women are not obligated to seek consent from their families for an abortion, and doctors cannot impose extralegal conditions. Guardians' consent is only necessary for minors or women with mental illnesses. The court quoted a 2022 judgment, emphasizing that the ultimate authority in decision-making about one's body lies with the woman alone.
Details of the Case: The verdict came from an urgent plea by an Adivasi woman from a remote village in Gujarat. She alleged rape under false pretenses of marriage and was turned away by the Gujarat High Court. Despite receiving medical approval for abortion, she sought relief from the Supreme Court. By the time of the plea, the petitioner's pregnancy had advanced to nearly 28 weeks.
This judgment marks a significant step towards acknowledging and respecting the reproductive autonomy of women, particularly in the context of traumatic events like rape. It underlines the importance of granting women the agency to make decisions about their own bodies, irrespective of their circumstances