NEW DELHI, India: In a decision widely hailed by women's rights activists, India's top court upheld the right of a woman to have an abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy, regardless of her marital status.
The decision was made in response to a petition by a woman who said her pregnancy resulted from a consensual relationship, but she wanted an abortion when her relationship failed.
In his ruling, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud of India's Supreme Court said, "Even an unmarried woman can undergo abortion up to 24 weeks, on par with married women," adding that a woman's marital status could not decide her right to an abortion.
The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act from 1971 limited abortions to married women, divorcees, widows, minors, disabled and mentally ill women, and survivors of sexual assault or rape.
In its ruling, the court said, "The decision to have or not to have an abortion is borne out of complicated life circumstances, which only the woman can choose on her own terms without external interference or influence."
Every woman should have the "reproductive autonomy" to seek abortion, without consulting a third party, he added.
Activists stressed that the ruling is a milestone for the rights of Indian women.
"It is a first step, it is a progressive step," said Yogita Bhayana, founder of People Against Rapes in India.
Sexual assault by husbands can be classified as marital rape under the law, the court added. Marital rape is not considered by Indian law as an offense, but efforts are being made to change this.