COVID-19 Lockdown: 1.85 million women in India seeking abortion could not access timely help or service

Abortion access to around 1.85 million women was compromised across the country due to the nationwide restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a study revealed

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: social media)


Abortion access to around 1.85 million women was compromised across the country due to the nationwide restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, a study conducted by Ipas Development Foundation (IDF) revealed.

These abortions were compromised at all points of care, including public and private sector facilities and chemist outlets during 68-day lockdown and the first week of Unlock 0.1 period. The study assesses the near-term impact of COVID-19 on abortion access in India since March 25 when the lockdown was imposed across the country with the announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to contain the spread of novel coronavirus of COVID-19 pandemic.

It also highlights the need for a specially designed and integrated recovery plan for improving abortion services at facilities. The study estimates that access to abortion was highly compromised during lockdown 1 and 2 ( between March 25 and May 3) in which around 59 per cent of women seeking an abortion could not access the services.

However, with the Unlock phase or the recovery period as mentioned in the study starting on June 1, the situation is expected to improve - with 33 per cent abortions being compromised in 24 days. A huge number of women could not access safe abortion services during the lockdown, therefore it is extremely important that the healthcare system, public and private, is prepared to meet the needs of these women, the Ipas foundation says.

The model of the study strives to quantify the reduced access to abortions across three different points of care -public health facilities, private health facilities, and chemist outlets, said Vinoj Manning, CEO, Ipas Development Foundation in a statement.

"Majority of public health facilities and their staff are now focused on COVID-19 treatments and closures of private health facilities have compromised the access to safe abortions, which is a time-sensitive procedure."

He said that the study conducted by his foundation was to get a clearer picture of how COVID-19 restrictions have affected women seeking safe abortion services and what are the areas that would need focused efforts in the days to come.

Speaking on the methodology, Dr Sushanta Kumar Banerjee from Ipas Development Foundation said: "We conducted telephonic surveys and consulted with several experts from FOGSI leadership and social marketing organizations like PSI India Private Limited."

"After careful analysis of the data received from them, we have concluded that of the 3.9 million abortions that would have taken place in 3 months, access to around 1.85 million was compromised due to COVID-19 restrictions."

To facilitate the process Ipas Development Foundation has issued some initial recommendations which include: rapid mapping of facilities for first and second trimester abortions, assessing facilities' preparedness especially for second-trimester abortions, improving referral linkage and spread the word about the availability of the service, streamlining the supply chain for medical abortion drugs, and lastly including mechanisms to offset additional travel and out of pocket expenditures.

Ipas Development Foundation will be holding consultations with other partners and key stakeholders to facilitate meaningful collaborations to ensure access to safe abortions and ensure that no woman suffers long-term harm to her health due to lack of services.

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