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India’s Supreme Court allows all women, regardless of marital status, to abort up to 24 weeks of pregnancy

India’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that all women, regardless of their marital status, can abort up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

Previously, under India’s abortion law, married women could abort up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, but single women were limited to 20 weeks. On Thursday, the court extended the 24-week period to all women.

The ruling was applauded by reproductive rights activists, who said the court ensured the law does not discriminate and extends the right to safe and legal abortion to single women.

“Now, all the rights that married women have, unmarried women will also have,” said Aparna Chandra, an associate professor of law at India’s National Law School, who works on reproductive justice. In her ruling, the court “breaks down the stigma attached to single women getting pregnant,” she said.

Abortion has been legal in India since 1971 under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act. In 2021, the law was amended to allow certain categories of women — including married, divorced, or widowed women, minors, rape victims, or mentally ill women — to have abortions up to 24 weeks, up from 20 weeks. previous. But the changes did not include single women, leading many to question why the law differentiated based on marital status.

“The artificial distinction between married and single women cannot be sustained. Women must have autonomy in order to freely exercise these rights,” said Judge Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud.

The court said that denying single women equal access to abortion violated the right to equality before the law under the Indian Constitution.

The right to abortion has been a contentious issue around the world, especially after the The US Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade ruling that had established a constitutional right to abortion in the country.

“Internationally, lawsuits affect each other, and this is a milestone because it recognizes a woman’s right to her body and reproductive freedom, regardless of what governments and legislatures say,” said Karuna Nundy, a lawyer for the Supreme Court of India.

The ruling came after a lower court denied an abortion to a single woman in a consensual relationship in July because she was more than 20 weeks pregnant. Later that month, the Supreme Court allowed her to have abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy and on Thursday extended that right to all women.

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