Case Commentary:


Case name :-

X vs. Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of NCT Delhi and another. 

Court :-

Supreme Court of India

Citation :-

Special Leave Petition (Civil) 12612 of 2022. 

Case no. :-

W.P. (C ) 10602/2022

Year of the case :-no


Date of judgement :-

29 September, 2022

Petitioner :-

Mr. X

Respondent ;-

Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Govt. of NCT Delhi.

Bench/Judges :-

Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, 

Justice A.S. Bopanna, and 

Justice B. Pardiwala. 

Acts involved :-

  • Constitution of India.
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. 
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Act, 2021. 
  • Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003.
  • Disability Act, 2016.
  • Indian Penal Code, 1860.
  • Criminal Procedure Code, 1973.

Important and sections :-

  • Article 14
  • Article 21
  • Article 226
  • Section 125, CrPC
  • Rule 3B of MTP Rules, 2003

Keywords :-

AIIMS, MTP, Article 21, Equal status of married or unmarried or single women, Reproductive justice, Abortion rights.

Introduction :-

Women’s rights could instigate many and sympathize none, be it their reproductive rights or rights in general, but what the Supreme Court of India pronounced in its landmark judgement is historic. The right to get abortions is one such most debated topic. The 3 bench judge’ progressive ruling on denial of an unmarried woman’s  right to a safe abortion- violates her personal autonomy and freedom.

Facts of the case :-

A 25 year old, unmarried woman native and hailing from the state of Manipur, now living in Delhi had conceived a child out of a later failed consensual relationship. She came to know of the single intrauterine pregnancy through a July 2022 ultrasonograph with the prior detection of the pregnancy in June 2022. The point to take note of here is the baby conceived was out of a wedlock which is continues to be a taboo today and also she hailed from a poor background with a farmer father, added being the eldest of five siblings. The writ petition filed under Article 226 in the Delhi High Court by the petitioner seeking the termination of her pregnancy taking into account of her status and the incapacity of providing a decent life to the child or for that matter raising the child with dignity in the very first place. 

Although the petitioner wasn’t provided any relief by the Delhi High Court which moved the case in the hierarchy.

Background of the case :-

The framing of Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 very recently amended the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 was to serve the purpose of legal and safe termination of a pregnancy by a qualified medical practitioner. It also elucidates the new conditions under which termination can be proceeded with. One major change being the raised upper limit from twenty to twenty four weeks for a legal termination. The same increment applies here called as the upper gestation period to the rape and assault survivors, minor, women with physical disabilities, mental illness, including women with post parturition abnormalities in their child and other unguarded women. The aforementioned Act though was a progressive one but didn’t award the abortion rights to single women. This was reverted and quashed in the X vs. Principal Secretary, Health case. 

Contentious issues :-

  • Was the termination of 24 week pregnancy valid for the petitioner an unmarried woman?
  • Was this case violative of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Indian Constitution w.r.t. Rule 3B of the MTP, 2003?

Judgement :-

This judgement was indeed crucial for the Judiciary as it had much larger impact both socially and politically. The judgment was pronounced taking note of the evolving social standards of the present day modern society. The judgement was authored by Justice DY Chandrachud. The Delhi High Court ruling was tagged too narrow by Justice Chandrachud. Quashing the problematic clause of the 1971 Act, now every woman regardless of her marital status is entitled for a legal abortion upto twenty four weeks. The judgement held distinction between married and that of an unmarried one unconstitutional. It also provides for the provisions of access to safe and legal abortion care. As per the 2021 amendment the terms husband with partner and married woman with any woman have been substituted. A noteworthy distinction was brought about by the Court throwing light on  the rape of an unmarried woman by a man and the rape of a married woman by her husband, briefly talking of section 375, firstly of the Indian Penal Code. 

It was also sought by the bench that allowing the termination of twenty to twenty four week pregnancies of married woman and restricting the same of those the unmarried or single woman is defying the very essence of Article 14 of the Constitution. While talking of Article 21, the bench highlighted of the right of woman taking into consideration of her mental health as well. This was so, because under section 3(3) of the MTP Act, the surrounding environment of a woman while considering abortion was to be included too. Court was of the strong opinion that the right of the reproductive autonomy coincides with that of bodily autonomy granted under Article 21. 

The Supreme Court granted an interim order allowing the termination of pregnancy of the petitioner guided and subject to the decision of the medical board of AIIMS, Delhi.

Related cases :-

  1. In the case of Suchita Srivastava and Anr. v. Chandigarh Administration, 2009 the Supreme Court affirmed a woman’s right to make reproductive choices falls within the ambit of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution.  
  1. In the case of K.S.Puttaswamy vs. Union Of India, 2017 the Right to Ptivacy was recognised as a Fundamental Right. It was held in the case that this right included the rights to make personal choices including those of reproductive choices.
  1. Also in cases of pregnancies out of a wedlock, a woman can demand maintenance under the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 section 125 wherein the court may order the biological father as per the circumstances certain sum of money for the maintenance of the woman and the child.
  1. In the case of Deepika Singh v. Central Administrative Tribunal and others, 2022 the Supreme Court held that familial relationships may take form of domestic, unmarried or queer relationships.

Conclusion :-

Ensuring effective implementation and adoption of a rights based approach in achieving legal adoption can turn out to be fruitful in saving numerous lives and also creating awareness. The above described case primarily sought to be a purposive interpretation and not a restrictive one. It hence proves true that law is the harbinger of social changes and X v. Principal Secretary, Health is the evidence of the saying quashing the age old stereotype of only married women being sexually active.

References :-

Author:- Saumya Shikha, a Student of Jogesh Chandra Chaudhuri Law College, CU, Kolkata

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