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Top India court rules abortion rights universal

September 29, 2022

Abortion rights in India are no longer tied to marital status as the country's Supreme Court ruled that all women should have the "reproductive autonomy" to terminate pregnancies.

A symbolic image of two pregnant women lying down
Women in India can seek abortions up to the 24th week of their pregnanciesImage: Donatella Giagnori/MAXPPP/Eidon/picture alliance

India's Supreme Court on Thursday removed restrictions on people who seek to terminate pregnancies outside of marriage. 

"The decision to have or not to have an abortion is borne out of complicated life circumstances, which only the woman can choose on her own terms without external interference or influence," the court ruling said.

The top court asserted that women should have the "reproductive autonomy" to seek abortions without consulting a third party.

Thursday's decision was an extension of a ruling in a case in which an unmarried woman in a consensual relationship complained that she was denied an abortion. 

The 25-year-old plaintiff was past 20 weeks in her pregnancy. The Supreme Court allowed her to terminate the pregnancy up to her 24th week. 

Abortion in India 

Since 1971, India's Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act had limited abortion rights to married women, divorcees, widows, minors, "disabled and mentally ill women," and survivors of sexual assault or rape.

Spousal rape had not been considered legal grounds for termination until Thursday's ruling. 

According to a 2017 study by the Ipas Development Foundation, about 6.4 million abortions are carried out annually in India

Over half of this number is believed to be unsafe abortions as poverty forces women to resort to illicit back-street operators or self-medication

fb/jcg (AFP, AP, Reuters)