Delhi High Court’s ruling that led to Supreme Court recognizing unmarried women’s right to a safe abortion

Delhi High Court

Delhi High Court: A Division Bench of Sathish Chandra Sharma, CJ and Subramonium Prasad, J refused termination of pregnancy to an unmarried woman whose pregnancy arose out of a consensual relationship after holding that her case was clearly not covered by any of the categories mentioned under Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003 as on the date of the judgment.

The Petitioner aged 25 years is a 24 weeks pregnant unmarried woman. Her pregnancy arose out of consensual relationship that eventually failed. It was her case that she cannot give birth to the child due to her financial incapacity to raise and handle the child along with mental incapacity to be a mother in order to secure her future from social stigma.

The Court noted that a perusal of Section 3(2)(a) Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 provides that the Medical Practitioner can terminate the pregnancy, provided the pregnancy does not exceed 20 weeks. Section 3(2) (b) of the Act provides for termination in circumstances where the pregnancy exceeds 20 weeks but does not exceed 24 weeks.

Further, it was noted that a perusal of Section 3(2)(b) Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 provides that the said sub-Section is applicable only to those women who are covered under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003. Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, which permits termination of pregnancy up to 24 weeks, reads as under: –

“3-B. Women eligible for termination of pregnancy up to twenty-four weeks.

The following categories of women shall be considered eligible for termination of pregnancy under clause (b) of sub-section (2) section 3 of the Act, for a period of up to twenty-four weeks, namely:

(a) survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;

(b) minors;

(c)change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);

(d) women with physical disabilities [major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016];

(e) mentally ill women including mental retardation;

(f) the foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped; and

(g) women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.”

The Court observed that the petitioner, who is an unmarried woman and whose pregnancy arises out of a consensual relationship, is clearly not covered by any of the Clauses under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003. Therefore, Section 3(2)(b) of the Act is not applicable to the facts of this case.

A noteworthy mention was made by the counsel for petitioners regarding non-inclusion of unmarried women under Rule 3B of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003 being violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India. The Court, however, observed that whether such rule is valid or not can be decided only after the said rule is held ultra vires, for which purpose, notice has to be issued in the writ petition and has been done so by this Court.

Noting that granting interim relief to the petitioner now would amount to allowing the writ petition itself, the Court held that in light of the law prevailing on the date of the passing of the order, Rule 3B Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003, stands, and thus “this Court, while exercising its power under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, 1950, cannot go beyond the Statute.”

This order, however, stands modified by the Supreme Court vide order dated 21-07-2022 wherein it has been held that woman cannot be denied right to safe abortion only on the ground of her being unmarried.

[X v. Principal Secretary, 2022 SCC OnLine Del 2171, decided on 15-07-2022]


Advocates who appeared in this case :

Dr. Amit Mishra, Advocate, for the Petitioner;

Ms. Hetu Arora Sethi, ASC for GNCTD with Mr. Arjun Basra, Advocate for R-1 Mr. Kirtiman Singh, CGSC with Mr. Waize Ali Noor, Ms. Kunjala Bhardwaj, Advocates for R-2, for the Respondent.


*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.

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