A decisive shift in the discourse on abortion rights


  • Recently, a single woman, residing in Delhi, approached the Delhi High Court seeking a Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) her 22-week-old pregnancy due to a change in her personal circumstances — her partner did not want to support her and the pregnancy anymore.
  • The Delhi High Court refused her permission by referring to the recently amended provisions of the MTP Act, which recognised the need for a request for an MTP by an unmarried woman on the grounds of contraceptive failure; however, this was only till 20 weeks of gestational limit. A change in circumstance was available, as per the law, only for a married woman up to 24 weeks.
  • The woman filed an appeal before the Supreme Court of India, which in the first instance, granted her permission to terminate the pregnancy based on the report of the medical board concerned. It also heard the case on the aspect of the constitutionality of the classification based on the marital status of a woman that the law, particularly the rules, has created.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Regime in India:

  • Earlier it was regulated by Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act 1971 that stipulated a ceiling of 20 weeks for termination of pregnancy on certain grounds, beyond which abortion of a foetus is statutorily impermissible. The Act was criticised for being regressive.
  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021 amended the 1971 Act.

Key Provisions of the MTP (Amendment) Act 2021

  1. The Act increases the gestation period of women seeking abortion up from 20 weeks to 24 weeks.
  2. It allows abortion to be done on the advice of one doctor up to 20 weeks, and two doctors in the case of certain special categories of women between 20 and 24 weeks. The “special categories of women” include rape survivors, victims of incest, the differently-abled and minors.
  3. In case of the gestational period beyond 24 weeks, pregnancy may be terminated only in cases of substantial foetal abnormalities diagnosed by the Medical Board or if there is a threat to the life of the mother.
  4. Opinion of only one Registered Medical Practitioner (RMP) will be required up to 20 weeks of gestation and two providers for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation.
  5. It allows unmarried women also to terminate a pregnancy up to 20 weeks in case of failure of the contraceptive method or device.
  6. All state and union territory governments will constitute a Medical Board which will decide if pregnancy may be terminated after 24 weeks due to substantial foetal abnormalities.
  7. Ensuring confidentiality/privacy of Pregnant Women: Name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated shall not be disclosed other than to a person authorised in any law for the time being in force.
  8. Opinion of only one doctor (RMP) will be required up to 20 weeks of gestation, 2 doctors for termination of pregnancy of 20-24 weeks of gestation and Medical Board for pregnancy beyond 24 weeks.

Evaluation of the 2022 judgment of Supreme Court (SC):

  • The SC judgment on access for termination of pregnancy services for women up to 24 weeks irrespective of their marital status was not expected to keep the pregnant person at the centre of it despite the law being provider-centric, and to read a judgment that encapsulates all the concerns that exist about the legal regime on abortion in India.
  • There are five key aspects of this judgment that herald a significant change in India’s MTP regulatory regime:
  1. It acknowledges the context of criminality in which access to abortion in India is — any termination of pregnancy that does not fall within the realm of the MTP Act is an offence under the IPC. The judgment contextualises the narrow space within which abortion is legalised in the country.
  2. The judgment holds unconstitutional the distinction that the law has made between a married pregnant woman and an unmarried pregnant woman.
  3. It acknowledges that a pregnancy which is a result of rape can be one due to forced sexual intercourse within a marriage, and while the issue of marital rape being recognised as an offence is before the Supreme Court, that a pregnancy can be sought to be terminated on the ground of it being as a result of rape by the husband of the pregnant woman must be recognised.
  4. It also acknowledges the concerns with accessing safe and legal MTP services that adolescent girls who have indulged in consensual sexual activity and seeking an abortion face due to the provisions of mandatory reporting to the police as in the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. This judgment clarifies that while the need to report mandatorily remains, the identity of the pregnant person need not be disclosed in the cases of consensual sexual activity and where the minor and/or her guardian request the medical service provider to maintain confidentiality.
  5. It recognizes the fact that the law in its current form is non-inclusive and the terminology used is exclusionary. It also recognises the extra-legal requirements that medical practitioners insist upon before providing MTP services, only to safeguard themselves due to the context of criminality.

About access of women to Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR):

  • The judgment has created progressive jurisprudence which interprets an otherwise medical law from the point of view of the rights of the persons accessing the services, even though it has not been acknowledged as a right yet, and is conditional. While doing this, the Court has placed a reliance on the various rulings of the Court itself, which have upheld women’s bodily autonomy and the right to dignity and decision making in various aspects.
  • The Court has also woven in this jurisprudence its reliance on the international commitments and obligations of India in ensuring safe and legal access to SRHR that include abortions.


This judgment is a ray of hope and brings to the fore the possibility of the law acknowledging the right of every person capable of becoming pregnant to be able to decide what she thinks is best for her without the need for any third party authorisation, and only supported by medical advice.

2022 Nobel Prize winner Svante Pääbo’s research on human evolution


The 2022 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine has been awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences to Swedish geneticist Svante Pääbo for his research in the field of genomes of extinct hominins and human evolution.

Contributions of Svante Pääbo:

  • Dr. Pääbo’s research has resulted in the rise of a new scientific disciple called paleogenomics, which is the study and analysis of genes of ancient or extinct organisms.
  • Dr. Pääbo was able to sequence the genome of Neanderthal, a species of humans that existed on the earth and went extinct around 30,000 to 40,000 years ago. They were a species or subspecies of archaic humans who lived in Eurasia.
  • Dr. Pääbo also discovered Denisova. Denisovans or Denisova hominins are an extinct species or subspecies of archaic human that ranged across Asia during the Lower and Middle Paleolithic. Denisovans are known from few physical remains and consequently, most of what is known about them comes from DNA evidence
Hominins are the member of the zoological “tribe” Hominini (family Hominidae, order Primates), of which only one species exists today—Homo sapiens, or human beings.The term is used most often to refer to extinct members of the human lineage, some of which are now quite well known from fossil remains: Homo neanderthalensis (the Neanderthals), Homo erectus, Homo habilis, and various species of Australopithecus.Some characteristics that have distinguished hominins from other primates, living and extinct, are their erect posture, bipedal locomotion, larger brains, and behavioral characteristics such as specialized tool use and, in some cases, communication through language.The living primates most closely related to hominins today are the African great apes

Dr Pääbo’s findings:

  • He found that “gene transfer had occurred from these now extinct hominins to Homo sapiens following the migration out of Africa around 70,000 years ago. This ancient gene flow has significant physiological relevance for present-day humans.
  • Studying the DNA of Neanderthals was not an easy task, because over time, DNA tends to degrade and become chemically modified. Since Neanderthals became extinct 30,000 years ago, only trace amounts of their DNA would have been left in fossils, if any.
  • So Dr Pääbo decided to study mitochondrial DNA from Neanderthals. In 2010, he published the first Neanderthal genome sequence. The geneticist was successful in sequencing a part of mitochondrial DNA from a 40,000-year-old bone. A comparison of this with contemporary humans and chimpanzees showed that Neanderthals were genetically distinct.
Mitochondria, popularly called the powerhouse of the cell, is an organelle inside the cell that has its own DNA. Although the mitochondrial genome is small and only contains a fraction of genetic information in the cell, it is present in thousands of copies. This increases the chance of its successful sequencing.

Implications of the findings:

  • The Neanderthal genome allows researchers to identify features that are unique to present-day humans, relative to other hominins.
  • DNA sequences from Neanderthals were also found to be more similar to sequences from contemporary humans originating from Europe or Asia than to contemporary humans originating from Africa, suggesting interbreeding between Neanderthals and Homo sapiens during their coexistence.
  • Five present-day human genomes from different regions were sequenced and analysed against the Neanderthal genome derived from the experiment. It was noted that the divergence of the Neanderthal genome to the human reference genome was greater than for any of the present-day human genomes that had been analysed.

The discovery of Denisova:

  • In 2008, Dr. Pääbo’s team sequenced the DNA from an “exceptionally well-preserved”, 40,000-year-old fragment from a finger bone found in the Denisova cave in Siberia. This DNA sequence turned out to be different from all-known sequences from Neanderthals and present-day humans. The previously-unknown hominin Denisova was thus discovered.
  • The Denisovan version of the gene EPAS1 confers an advantage for survival at high altitude and is common among present-day Tibetans. Other examples are Neanderthal genes that affect our immune response to different types of infections
  • Comparisons with DNA sequences of contemporary humans from different parts of the world also suggested gene flow between them and Denisova.


  • The 2022 Nobel Prize for Physiology recognises the development of scientific understanding in human evolution and the discovery of now extinct hominids.


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