#WhatTheFAQ: Understanding Supreme Court's latest ruling on abortion, marital rape

Yesterday, the apex court's judgement regarding the MTP Act marked a milestone. Here is everything that you need to know about it
FAQ | September 30
FAQ | September 30

The Supreme Court of India on September 29 delivered a landmark judgement! If you have not come across the news yet, let us bring you up to speed.

The judgement relates to the MTP (Medical termination of pregnancy) Act. This Act allows women to opt for abortion under certain conditions. Now, as per the new judgement, married women, who have been forced to conceive, can also seek an abortion under this act. What does this mean? Let's take a look and understand in detail.

What did the SC actually rule?
A bench led by Justice DY Chandrachud including Justices AS Bopanna and JB Pardiwala held that married women who have conceived because of forced sex initiated by their husbands (victims of marital rape) would also come within the ambit of the MTP Act and be considered "survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest" mentioned in Rule 3B(a) of the Act. It may be noted that Rule 3B(a) mentions the categories of women who can seek termination of pregnancy within a term of 20-24 weeks, as explained in a report by LiveLaw.in.

How did the court explain itself?
"Married women may also form part of the class of survivors of sexual assault or rape. The ordinary meaning of the word rape is sexual intercourse with a person without consent or against their will. Regardless of whether such forced intercourse occurs in the context of matrimony, a woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sexual intercourse performed upon her by her husband," the bench said, explaining the reason behind its judgement.

The bench observed that such cases of forced sex were not uncommon. However, the court also clarified that the meaning of marital rape within the meaning of rape must be held for the purpose of the MTP Act only.

How can a married woman seek an abortion under this new rule?
The court has explained that a woman need not prove the commission of rape or sexual assault to seek termination of pregnancy. "Further, there is no requirement that the instance may be registered or the allegation of rape may be proved before a court of law or some other forum before it can be construed true for the purpose of the MTP Act," the court's judgement stated, as per LiveLaw.in. The bench observed that such requirements would prove to be in conflict with the purpose of the MTP Act.

How did this judgement come about?
The existing provisions of the MTP Act do not allow single women to seek termination of pregnancy after 20 weeks. The apex court was hearing petitions challenging this. In its final judgement, the court allowed single women to seek abortion within a term of 20-24 weeks, and also extended the ambit of this rule to married women who were victims of marital rape.

So, does SC recognise marital rape now?
No. As the court's clarification states, marital rape is being recognised ONLY for the purpose of the MTP Act. It must be noted that petitions challenging the constitutionality of Exception to Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) are being considered by the Supreme Court. This Exception to Section 375 exempts marital rape from the offence of rape.

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