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Supreme Court takes cognizance of marital rape under abortion law

In a landmark ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court on Thursday took cognisance of marital rape under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.

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Supreme Court takes cognizance of marital rape under abortion law
The Supreme Court said for the purpose of abortion, marital rape will be recognised as rape. (Representational photo)

In Short

  • SC said marital rape will be considered as rape for the purpose of abortion.
  • The court also said all women regardless of their marriage status, are entitled to abortion.
  • The case was in connection with the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act.

By Nalini Sharma, Sanjay Sharma: The Supreme Court on Thursday gave its verdict on the termination of pregnancy under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act. In a landmark ruling, the top court said that for the purpose of abortion, marital rape will be recognised as rape.

The apex court said that sexual assault committed by a husband on his wife will also be recognised as rape under the provisions of the act. It added that the definition of rape will include marital rape under the MTP act.

ALL WOMEN ENTITLED TO ABORTION

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The court was hearing a case on the issue of bringing unmarried women at parity with married women with regard to termination of pregnancy under the MTP act.

In a relief for unmarried women across the country, the court in its judgement ruled that all women are entitled to safe and legal abortions regardless of their marriage status.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court clearly said there cannot be any discrimination between married and unmarried women in the matter of abortion. “All women in India have the right to a safe and legal abortion,” said the top court.

While giving its verdict, the court said married women may also be survivors of sexual assault and rape. It observed that a woman may become pregnant as a result of non-consensual sex with her husband.

The court said sexual violence by one’s intimate partner is a lived experience for many, while noting the MTP act must not remain static and consider the changing social realities.

THE MARITAL RAPE DEBATE

The case to decide on criminalising marital rape is still pending in the courts, with the Delhi High Court giving a split verdict on the issue in May this year. The matter will now be heard by the Supreme Court in February 2023.

The matter was taken to court after a series of public interest litigations (PILs) were filed challenging the "marital rape exception" clause in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). The clause states that any sexual act performed by a man on his own wife is not rape as long as the wife is not a minor.

Section 375 defines various acts that, if done against a woman's consent, by force, fraud, or coercion, or to a woman incapable of giving consent, are defined as rape.

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