Kochi: Estranged married women can opt for abortion without the consent of their husbands, ruled the High Court of Kerala.
Justice V G Arun made the ruling while allowing a woman living separately from her abusive husband to terminate her 21-week pregnancy.
The 21-year-old woman approached the court after the Kottayam Medical College authorities refused to carry out the abortion without the consent of her husband or divorce documents.
The lawyer representing the Government argued that the partner's consent is required for abortion by married women. However, the court observed that the husband’s consent is not required under the law for women to undergo pregnancy termination.
It's the women who face mental and physical difficulties during pregnancy and childbirth. Hence, they are legally allowed to terminate the pregnancy. This is part of their individual freedom, the court pointed out.
The right to avail of abortion should not be refused on the ground that a married woman is yet to obtain a divorce, the court stated.
The court also cited the medical report that stated continuing the pregnancy would adversely affect the petitioner's mental health. As per the complaint, her husband didn’t extend any support even during the gestation period.
While permitting the petitioner to undergo an abortion, the court directed the authorities to depute a medical team at the government/medical college hospital for the procedure. If the doctors can take the baby alive, they should ensure the best treatment. If the households are not interested in taking care of the baby, the concerned government agencies should provide the required facility under the law, the court added.
The case background
The petitioner fell in love with a bus conductor while pursuing a computer course and eloped with him in November 2021. She married him as per tradition on March 2022. However, the woman subsequently accused her husband and his mother of torturing her in the name of dowry. She also charged him with raising suspicion over the paternity of her yet-to-be-born child. But the husband denied the charge he ever suspected of his fatherhood.
What the law says
Legally, a woman can avail of abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Out of these, survivors of sexual harassment, minors, those whose spouses die or those obtaining divorce during gestation, those facing mental or physical disabilities, the fetus developing health issues, etc. can terminate a pregnancy between 20 and 24 weeks under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act).