Why is the Supreme Court’s recent judgment on abortion hailed as progressive?



ON this episode of The Leaflet’s podcast series, our host Sarah Thanawala interacts with Rohin Bhatt, a queer lawyer and a queer rights activist. He is a graduate of Master of Bioethics from Harvard Medical School. He writes on a wide range of topics including queerness, reproductive rights, bioethics constitutional law, and the effects that fascism has on human rights.

In this episode, Bhatt delves into the Supreme Court Judgment in the case of X versus The Principal Secretary Health and Family Department, Govt of Delhi, where the Court held that unmarried and single women, who face a change in their material circumstances, will be able to access abortion between 20 and 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

Bhatt explains the provisions under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 (‘MTP’ Act), and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Rules, 2003 that were at the centre of the issue in the Court’s expansive interpretation of the abortion law in India. Besides the law, he explains the social barriers to accessing safe and legal abortion, including the social stigma and the fear of the registered medical practitioners, that the Court took due notice of in its judgment. 

Bhatt highlights the various ways in which the judgment has given an expansive interpretation and proved to be a progressive one, particularly on account of its wide interpretation of the term ‘women’, by including ‘persons other than cis-gender women’, and the inclusion of marital rape within the meaning of ‘rape’ for the purposes of the MTP Act. He also elaborates on the Court’s recognition of the barrier of mandatory reporting under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012 in accessing safe abortion by young adults. 

Bhatt explains that the Court primarily relied upon Article 21 of the Constitution to recognise the right to reproductive autonomy, right to dignity, and right to privacy of unmarried and single women to access abortion.

Lastly, Bhatt emphasises that although the obstacles including criminalisation of abortion under the Indian Penal Code, privatisation of hospitals, lack of audits or training for medical education, and a social stigma exist in the way of the expansive interpretation given by the court to see the light of the day, the judgment is the first step in realising the right of women to abortion. 


  1. Aparna Chandra, Mrinal Satish, Shreya Shree, and Mini Saxena, Legal Barriers to Accessing Safe Abortion Services in India: A Fact Finding Study
  2. Michelle Goodwin, Policing the Womb
  3. Mary Ziegler, Abortion and the Law in America: Roe v. Wade to the Present
  4. Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service
  5. Katrina Kimport, No Real Choice: How Culture and Politics Matter for Reproductive Autonomy
  6. Loretta Ross, Lynn Roberts, Erika Derkas, Whitney Peoples, and Pamela Bridgewater, Radical Reproductive Justice: Foundations, Theory, Practice, Critique


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