New Delhi: According to the first national study of the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy in India, an estimated 15.6 million abortions were performed in the country in 2015. This translates to an abortion rate of 47 per 1,000 women aged 15–49, which is similar to the abortion rate in neighboring South Asian countries.
The study, published on 12th December in The Lancet Global Health, was conducted jointly by researchers at the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), Mumbai; the Population Council, New Delhi; and the New York-based Guttmacher Institute. It also found that the vast majority of abortions (81%) were achieved using medication abortion (which, in India, is commonly referred to as medical methods of abortion, or MMA) that was obtained either from a health facility or another source. Fourteen percent of abortions were performed surgically in health facilities, and the remaining 5% of abortions were performed outside of health facilities using other, typically unsafe, methods.
The study also estimated the incidence of unintended pregnancy in India and found that out of the total 48.1 million pregnancies in 2015, about half were unintended—meaning they were wanted later or not at all. The estimated unintended pregnancy rate was 70 per 1,000 women aged 15–49 in 2015, which is similar to the rates in neighboring Bangladesh (67) and Nepal (68), and much lower than the rate in Pakistan (93).
“Although abortion has been legal under a broad range of criteria in India since 1971, we have never had a reliable estimate of the number occurring until now,” says Dr Chander Shekhar, professor in the Department of Fertility Studies at IIPS and co–principal investigator of the study. “This new evidence provides policymakers with information that is essential for designing and implementing effective reproductive health care programs.”
The study proposes a number of steps to improve the availability and quality of abortion services in health facilities, including training and certifying more doctors to provide abortion care.