In the notable case of X v. The Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare Department, Govt. of NCT of Delhi & Anr., 2022, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgment. The Court established that unmarried women have the right to terminate their pregnancies under Rule 3B of the MTP (Medical Termination of Pregnancy) Rules. It emphasized that all women possess the fundamental right to reproductive autonomy, and restricting the termination of pregnancy based on marital status would violate their right to equality. This groundbreaking ruling reflects the Court’s commitment to evolving jurisprudence, aligning abortion laws with changing societal norms and recognizing diverse familial relationships.
FACTS OF THE CASE
The case involved a 25-year-old unmarried woman who approached the Delhi High Court seeking permission to terminate her 22-week pregnancy resulting from a consensual relationship. However, on July 15, the High Court denied her request by invoking the provisions of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, which permitted abortion after 20 weeks only for married women and for specific reasons such as mental anguish, rape, or health complications. The woman did not fall within any of the clauses outlined in the MTP rules of 2003 that would allow her to undergo the procedure.
Subsequently, she appealed to the Supreme Court, citing social stigma and harassment associated with being an unmarried single parent. She argued that continuing the unwanted pregnancy posed a grave risk of immense injury to her mental health.
BACKGROUND OF THE MTP ACT
The provisions concerning the termination of pregnancy underwent significant modifications upon the enactment of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1971. Prior to this, the Indian Penal Code criminalized abortions, except for situations where the procedure was conducted in good faith to preserve the life of the woman.
The objective of the MTP Act of 1971 was to decriminalize abortion under specific circumstances and under the supervision of registered medical practitioners. Pursuant to this Act, termination of pregnancy could be carried out under Section 3(2) if it did not surpass 20 weeks. Moreover, if the termination occurred within 12 weeks of conception, the opinion of a single doctor was requisite, while termination between 12 and 20 weeks necessitated the opinion of two doctors.
The Act allowed for abortion in cases where the continuation of the pregnancy jeopardized the life of the woman, where there were detected foetal abnormalities, where immediate intervention was essential to safeguard the woman’s life, or where it would cause substantial harm to the woman’s mental or physical health, including instances of rape or failure of birth control measures.
In 2021, the Parliament introduced amendments to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act to address evolving needs and advancements in medical science. The amendment authorized abortion upon the assent of one medical practitioner within 12 weeks and required the opinion of two medical practitioners within 20 weeks. It also sanctioned abortion up to 24 weeks for specified categories of women, such as those experiencing a change in marital status during pregnancy, survivors of rape and incest, differently abled women, and minors.
Furthermore, the 2021 amendment substituted the reference to “married woman or her husband” with “any woman or her partner,” thereby encompassing pregnancies outside the institution of marriage within the ambit of the legal framework.
RULING BY THE SUPREME COURT
The main issue before the Supreme Court was to examine the validity of Rule 3B of the MTP Rules, 2003, in light of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, as it excluded unmarried women from accessing safe and legal abortions. The Court emphasized that the interpretation of the MTP Act and rules should reflect the current social realities and not be limited by societal norms regarding age or marital status.
The MTP Act of 1971 before amendment primarily focused on married women, but the 2021 amendment removed the distinction between married and unmarried women. It recognized that all women are entitled to the right to safe and legal abortion. Rule 3B of the MTP Rules, 2003 was struck down for being discriminatory against unmarried women, who may face similar challenges and circumstances as married women.
The objective of Section 3(2) (b) of the MTP Act, along with Rule 3B, was to provide for abortions between 20 to 24 weeks when the pregnancy became unwanted due to changes in the circumstances of the woman.
It was observed that unsafe abortions can have severe consequences compared to legal abortions performed by trained medical providers. The Court also reiterated that in the case of K. S. Puttaswamy v. Union of India, Justice Chelameshwar emphasized that a woman’s freedom to choose whether to bear a child or terminate her pregnancy falls within the sphere of privacy. Additionally, in Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Administration, the court explicitly recognized the concept of reproductive autonomy.
The Court categorically held that the rights of reproductive autonomy, dignity, and privacy under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution grant unmarried women the right to choose whether or not to bear a child, similar to the rights of married women. The Supreme Court, in its judgment, affirmed that the term “reproductive autonomy” refers to the ability of individuals to make independent decisions regarding contraception use, pregnancy, and childbearing. It encompasses various rights, including the right to receive education and information on contraception and sexual health, the right to choose the type of contraceptives to be used, and the right to undergo safe and legal abortion. These rights should be exercised freely and without any form of coercion. Therefore, women should have the right to make decisions about abortion without external interference.
 X v. Health & Family Welfare Department, 2022 SCC OnLine SC 905.
 K.S. Puttaswamy (Privacy-9J.) v. Union of India, (2017) 10 SCC 1.
 Suchita Srivastava v. Chandigarh Admn. (2009) 9 SCC 1.