October 30, 2009
A report in the ‘Health and Population-Perspectives and Issues’ Journal published by the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare – an apex institute funded by the Central Government’s Ministry of Health- suggests that Medical Termination of Pregnancy may be on the rise.
Medical Termination of Pregnancy or the legal route for abortion – was legalized in India by the MTP Act of 1971 to reduce deaths and health hazards caused to women opting for illegal abortions. But concerns are now rising on whether this provision is being mistaken for an alternative method of family planning.
The report published in the July-September 2008 issue of the Journal which was released only recently was based on a cross sectional study done between January and December of 2007 at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Dr TMA Pai Hospital, Udupi – a secondary level hospital – one of the biggest in the Udupi town. Only women who had no obvious medical reasons to go in for abortion were selected for the study. The report suggests that majority of them opted for legal abortions either because their previous child was too young or they did not want any more pregnancy.
The report thus raises serious questions about legal abortions on the rise, unfortunately, as a method for limiting and spacing births. High rates of induced abortions – a worldwide concern for medical practitioners- reflects low prevalence of the use and effectiveness of Contraception states the report.
Out of the 97 pregnant women who came to the hospital for legal abortion, 92 were married and vast majority of them were home-makers aged between 21 and 30 well aware of contraceptive methods like Condoms and Oral Contraceptive Pills. Yet, 75 of those 97 did not follow any form of contraception.
The report authored by Drs Parvati Bhat, Ashwini Prabhu, Pratap Kumar and Sreekumaran Nair proposes that this study was an attempt at finding out the contraceptive knowledge, practice and acceptance level among women seeking termination of pregnancy in Southern Karnataka. The report concludes that inspite of the good levels of literacy and awareness in Karnataka, it is surprising to note the levels of women opting for legal abortion. Of the 97 women who underwent abortions, five were aged between 18 and 20. Four of these five were unmarried. The report thus states the concern regarding girls getting sexually active at a young age – and perhaps taking things lightly as they are aware of an established lawful medically safe way out in case they were to fall in trouble.
The report has called for a greater role by healthcare providers in educating and encouraging the public about methods of contraception that are available today. The burning issue of women empowerment may not be mentioned in the report, but a general perception indicates that in the lower socio-economic strata, it is the males who exercise the right to choice of contraception, if any. What is even worrisome is that this report came from just one hospital in one town in the country – not to forget- from among those women who agreed to accept and confront the issue legally through the proper medical way. Needless to say, this may just be the tip of iceberg – this larger complex social issue certainly demands attention of health policy makers and educators in the society.
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