A study conducted by the Pratigya Campaign has revealed that medical abortion (MA) pills are vanishing from the market in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
The study titled 'Availability of MA drugs across four Indian states' found that chemists in Rajasthan and Maharashtra are not stocking MA drugs anymore and only 37.8% are stocking in Bihar and 66% in Uttar Pradesh.
“Those who are not stocking identified legal/regulatory barriers as the main reason for non- stocking. Bihar was the only exception, where low demand was cited as a reason for not stocking. Non-availability of MA drugs is threatening women's access to safe abortion, especially in a scenario where even today an estimated 10 women die in India due to unsafe abortions, the third leading cause of maternal mortality in India,” revealed the study.
The study pointed out that the chemists have been informally asked not to sell MA drugs and there have been MA specific visits by regulatory authorities. Specific visits related to MA drugs were high in Rajasthan at 14.3% and Maharashtra at 17.4%. As high as 56% chemists reported that MA drugs are overregulated as compared to other schedule H drugs.
Mr. V.S Chandrashekar, Pratigya Campaign Advisory Group member and Chief Executive Officer, Foundation for Reproductive Health Services-India, said, “India has achieved great success in improving access to safe abortions, thanks to the proactive steps taken by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare over the past decade and a half. Availability of MA drugs, particularly combi packs has been instrumental in the decline of unsafe abortions. The non-availability of MA drugs can potentially reverse the gains made over the past few years.”
The study attempted to capture chemists' awareness, knowledge and attitudes about abortions and MA drugs. 43% of chemists thought abortions were Illegal; and only 26% were aware that it is legal up to 20 weeks gestation.
In Rajasthan, a whopping 60.7% chemist said abortions are illegal followed by 51.8% in Bihar. 15% felt that availability of combi pack MA drugs contributes to gender biased sex selection with Maharashtra topping with 42.5%.
"This is a wrong perception since combipacks are indicated only for use up to nine weeks gestation and the commonly used and affordable technology to identify the sex of the fetus, Ultra Sonography can detect the sex only around 13-14 weeks gestation" says Dr. Kalpana Apte, Pratigya Campaign Advisory Group member and Secretary General, Family Planning Association of India.
"This misconception seems to be resulting in overregulation of MA drugs, significantly affecting availability of a safe, simple and affordable method of safely terminating a pregnancy, compromising the health, wellbeing and reproductive rights of women in India" she added.
Women in large numbers find MA drugs effective, affordable and convenient in terminating unwanted pregnancies and are using it for indications permitted by the MTP Act.
Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion is a network of individuals and organisations working towards protecting and advancing women’s rights and their access to safe abortion care in India.