Court says Women Employees attaining motherhood through surrogacy are entitled to maternity leave

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In a significant ruling, the Orissa High Court has held that women employees who attain motherhood through surrogacy are entitled to avail the benefit of maternity leave. This decision is based on the understanding that maternity leave is not only beneficial for the concerned woman but also essential for the healthy rearing of a newborn. The ruling emphasizes the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution, which includes the right to motherhood and the right of every child to full development.

Background of the Case

The petitioner, a woman working as the Joint Director (Accounts) in Gopabandhu Academy of Administration, applied for maternity leave after attaining motherhood through surrogacy. However, her application for leave was initially denied by the Finance Department, citing the absence of a provision for granting leave to women employees who become mothers through assisted reproductive technology or surrogacy. Subsequently, the petitioner approached the High Court to challenge the denial of leave.

Court’s Decision and Rationale

The Orissa High Court noted that while the Odisha Service Code entitles women employees to 180 days of maternity leave, this benefit is extended to female employees who attain motherhood through adoption of a child up to one year of age. However, a similar provision was conspicuously absent for women attaining motherhood through surrogacy. The Court referred to previous judgments and international conventions to support its decision, emphasizing the importance of equal treatment and support for all new mothers, regardless of how they become parents.

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The Court also highlighted the need to interpret rules and regulations in light of advancements in medical science and changes in societal conditions. It emphasized that recognizing and supporting surrogacy as a legitimate means of becoming a parent aligns with India’s progressive stance on reproductive rights and gender equality. The Court directed the State to grant 180 days of maternity leave to the petitioner and ordered the incorporation of a provision for providing maternity leave to commissioning mothers in the relevant rules, ensuring equal treatment for children born through surrogacy and their mothers.

Implications of the Ruling

The Orissa High Court’s ruling sets a precedent for recognizing the rights of women employees who become mothers through surrogacy, ensuring that they have the necessary time to create a stable and loving environment for their children. By directing the State to grant maternity leave and incorporate provisions for commissioning mothers, the ruling promotes the well-being of both the mother and the child, aligning with the evolving social psyche and expectations regarding maternity benefits.

This landmark decision reflects a progressive approach to reproductive rights and gender equality, acknowledging the diverse paths to motherhood and the importance of providing support and equal treatment to all new mothers, irrespective of the method through which they become parents.

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