Abortion among teen rape victims is a serious problem. The victim is already traumatized, then there’s the pregnancy, followed by the social shame associated with rape victims. To make matters worse, getting an abortion is tough. Pregnancies are identified when they are already advanced for a variety of reasons. For starters, a child is unlikely to realize she is pregnant or that being raped can lead to pregnancy. As a result, several months pass before one or more family members detect something is wrong or that the child is pregnant; that is until the pregnancy becomes visible. If a little older teen discovers she is pregnant, they may be frightened that their family would not believe them. This, too, may create a delay in reaching a medical facility. Other factors, such as the abuser’s threat to her or her loved ones’ lives, may keep the child from reporting the violence and its effects.
In the case of the State of Rajasthan v. S, 2020, a juvenile girl, was raped and became pregnant as a result of it. She was denied an abortion at a hospital and by the district court because her pregnancy had progressed beyond the 20-week mark set by the MTPA, 1971, after which she was no longer able to abort her fetus. She filed a complaint with the Rajasthan High Court, claiming that she was being denied her right to bodily autonomy and personal liberty, as provided by Article 21. Her appeal was dismissed by a solitary judge, who cited the need to protect the fetus’ life. The High Court’s division bench, on the other hand, overturned the decision and maintained her right to bodily autonomy. Shri Sharma argued that the concept of comparative agony, which the Single Bench evaluated and decided in favor of the right of the child to be born over and above the agony and mental trauma caused to the victim, is not the only facet of the issue because, according to him, scientific research has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that childbirth at an age younger than 18 years is harmful to the mother’s mental and physical health. The girl giving birth at such a young age will likely face various future issues. He said that if a minor girl is pregnant as a result of sexual assault, her fundamental right to live like a normal person without having to go through the trauma of giving birth at such a young age must take precedence over the hypothetical fundamental right of the kid yet to be born. He further argued that the risk of death or serious harm to the mother during birth at such a young age is very significant and that the learned Single Bench’s comparative examination of the fundamental right to live in the challenged judgment is imbalanced and thus unsustainable. The most important aspect is to respect a woman’s right to privacy, dignity, and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, S. had already given birth by the time this decision was made. The youngster was then given protection by the court under the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act of 2015. As a result, the High Court reversed the situation in which the rights of a pregnant woman are weighed against those of the fetus, and accorded preference to the rights of the pregnant woman.
In contrast to previous decisions that focused solely on the rights of the unborn fetus, this ruling must be welcomed for upholding a mother’s rights. Despite this, it is not without flaws. One of the reasons for the court’s decision is the “social disgrace” that S. would endure if she became an “unwed mother.” This is an erroneous viewpoint since it assumes to speak for our patriarchal society and its attitudes toward women. It’s concerning that an androcentric viewpoint is given precedence over the fetus-freedom bearer’s right to choose. While the purposes of the judgment are in the best interests of women, the reasons must also reject or avoid erroneous social assumptions that attempt to limit women’s freedom. It is necessary to overcome the social stigma that rape victims experience. As law enforcement officers, judges can help break stereotypes and pave the path for a more inclusive society that preserves victims’ dignity and makes the world a better place for them. The delay in delivering judgments must be investigated so that people can receive justice when they deserve it and are not subject to any further hardship than they have already endured. This decision corrects some systematic and structural inequality, but not all of it. It appears to pave the path for more decisions that support women’s rights.
Abortion is a highly emotional matter that elicits strong feelings and strong opinions. Equal access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Bill, 2021, was enacted by India’s Parliament on March 17, 2021, to amend the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971. On therapeutic, eugenic, humanitarian, or social grounds, this amendment lays the path for women to have access to safe and legal abortion services. The bill aims to enhance regulations protecting the dignity and privacy of women seeking legal protection when faced with such a life-changing decision. This includes:
- Increased the gestation length from 20 to 24 weeks “for certain categories of women,” such as rape survivors or other vulnerable women.
- For pregnancy terminations of up to 20 weeks, one qualified medical practitioner’s opinion is necessary, and for pregnancy terminations of 24 weeks, two registered medical practitioners’ opinion is required.
- In circumstances of significant fetal abnormalities, the 24-week gestation period will not apply to the termination of the pregnancy.
- The name and other personal information of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated should not be disclosed unless it is required by law.
Pregnancies in teen rape victims are already advanced when they are discovered. In this aspect, the prolonged gestation time from 20 to 24 weeks may be quite advantageous. The MTP Bill of 2021 might be considered as paving the way for more decisions that support women’s rights. Access to abortion is crucial when a pregnancy is the consequence of rape, both within and outside of marriage. Women and girls suffer enormously as a result of misinterpretation of abortion and rape laws, as well as a lack of understanding of the catastrophic consequences of rape, particularly repeated rape, and other forms of violence and abuse. In India, health professionals are required by law to provide immediate care and treatment to rape survivors, including early abortion access. It’s long past time for the government and courts to begin holding themselves and healthcare providers responsible for ensuring that this care is provided. Instead of focusing on the unborn fetus, I believe the focus should be on the victim’s physical and emotional wellbeing. There is no use in addressing the rights of an unborn child if the world cannot secure sufficient rights and safety for those who are alive. The health concerns that arise as a result of such pregnancies are secondary to the social issues that the victims must deal with. Society needs to be educated as to how they treat rape victims and the world needs to be made more inclusive of them.
Author(s) Name: Khushi Nagrath (Vivekananda Institute of Professional Studies, New Delhi)