Abortion in India: Legal, But Not Always Safe

Even though abortion is legal in almost all countries to save a woman’s life and in three-fifths of countries to protect her physical and mental health, safe abortion services are often not provided by public health systems or are of poor quality.

Since 1971 abortion has been permitted in India for a broad variety of reasons. Throughout the country, women who can afford health care in private hospitals have fairly good access to sexual and reproductive health care services, including abortion. But in rural and poverty-stricken areas, where people rely on public health care facilities called Primary Health Centers, access is more limited, to devastating effect. In India, rates for maternal mortality are highest among poor rural women. India has the largest number of deaths from unsafe abortions in the world.

IWHC’s latest video features Rajesh Chaturvedi who works with the organization Gramin Punarnirman Sansthan (GPS) in Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. GPS is a member of CommonHealth, one of our partners in India. Over the last few years, GPS has focused on advocacy around obtaining better reproductive health care services in the Azamgarh District of Uttar Pradesh. On a program visit to India, IWHC’s then-Program Officer Khushbu Srivastava met Rajesh. He was generous enough to tell her this very personal true story about the insufficiency of the health care system in India in dealing with abortion.

In the 21st century there is no reason for a woman to die or suffer the traumas of an unsafe abortion. Access to safe abortion is about more than policy – communities and those who provide them with health care must be committed to achieving true access.

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A full transcript of the video is after the jump.

Text card: The International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) presents

Text card: Abortion in India: Legal, But Not Always Safe

Scrolling text: CommonHealth, an IWHC partner, is a network in India that advocates for maternal health, including access to safe abortion. CommonHealth introduced IWHC to Rajesh Chaturvedi,
who works to address the health of rural women and their families in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India.

Rajesh narration: She had three children before. All girls. Then she became pregnant for the 4th time.

Scrolling text: Abortion in India was legalized in 1971 but many people, especially in rural areas, do not know that abortion is legal. India has the largest number of deaths from unsafe abortions in the world.

Rajesh narration: So she took medication from a quack doctor in the village for abortion.

Scrolling text: Despite its legality, many health care providers don’t know how to do safe abortions or refuse to provide the service.

Rajesh narration: After taking medication she got some spotting but did not have complete abortion. Then after two, three days she told her husband to take her to a doctor as she needs to take medicine. She needed to complete the abortion. For the abortion she went to the clinic and she met the nurse. They paid 1000 rupees and the nurse put some medicine inside the uterus. She went home and on the first day she had mild bleeding, second day she had mild bleeding but on third day she had very heavy bleeding and it was a problem so she told her husband to take her to the doctor. Her husband again took her to the clinic doctor who had administered the medication.The doctor saw her from the distance and said she will not see her as she looks seriously ill and they should take her to the some other doctor. So they immediately drove from Nadiya Paar to Atraulia- where there is one private hospital.The doctor looked after her from 6 pm to 3 am.  The treatment did not help and at 3 am she was discharged. She went to another private hospital from 4 am to 10 am. There she was given a blood transfusion that cost 2000 rupees. But she still didn’t get better. Her condition became worse. At 10 am the doctor arrived and said to give her another transfusion. Her husband went to their village to arrange for borrowing money. He paid 2000 rupees, but she died before they could give her blood.

Scrolling text: Every year, nearly 70,000 women around the world die because they do not have access to safe abortion services or are refused care by health care providers.  Legal restrictions and cultural stigma on abortion access do not reduce the number of abortions, they increase the likelihood that women will have serious complications.

Rajesh narration: People think it is a sin. “This is sin and it is a woman’s issue, men are not responsible.” So in our society, women get abortions done secretly, that is the main reason of this difficulty. They get it done secretly because it is not accepted in the country.

Scrolling text: These deaths are preventable Women need reproductive health care services that are comprehensive, with policies that reinforce human rights, and clinics that grant safe access to vital services, especially in rural areas.


Featuring Rajesh Kumar Chaturvedi

This video is a collaborative production of the International Women’s Health Coalition, CommonHealth, and Gramin Punarnirman Sansthan.

Camera: Khushbu Srivastava

Editing: Audacia Ray and Lori Adelman

Script guidance and editing support: Melanie Abrahams and Kelly Castagnaro

Translation: Sunita Bhadauria and Khushbu Srivastava

Photos courtesy of CommonHealth and the International Women’s Health Coalition 

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