Abortions across registered centres in Maharashtra dropped 15% in 201415, an RTI query has revealed, in contrast to a rise in the numbers over the five years before that.
The government believes the aggressive campaigns on use of contraception are finally bearing result, while medical professionals are more cautious.
"Overall, it is happy news if the number of abortions have come down. Awareness is definitely on the rise about the use of contraception and MTP (medical termination of pregnancy) options, but nagging issues affecting a woman's access to safe abortion in the state today cannot be overlooked," said Dr Suchitra Pandit of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI). Statistics, accessed from the state's Directorate of Health Services by activist Chetan Kothari, show in 2014-15, abortions in the most preferred first trimester dipped by 13%, and a substantial 36% in the second trimester. In all, from 2.08 lakh abortions in 2013-14, the number dipped to 1.78lakh in 2014-15.
The decline in abortion numbers in the state is in stark contrast to the previous years, when up to 35% increase in medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) cases was reported in 2012-2013 or 17% in 2011-12.
Assistant director Dr N D Deshmukh, who oversees the MTP services for the state, aid the dip is encouraging all the way . "We are offering intra-uterine contraceptive devices just after delivery. Over 15,000 women have been implanted with one this year and t lasts for a decade. One has to understand hat 80-85% abortion cases are due to contraceptive failure and we are taking that problem away gradually ," he added.
But many gynaecologists TOI spoke to echoed what is being said in research papers hat pregnant women in Maharashtra are finding it difficult to access MTP services, particularly in the second trimester. Several doctors said the situation is grim in rural pockets. Second trimester abortions fell from 15,048 in 2013-14 to 9,615 in 2014-15.
Abortion during the second trimester or post-12-week pregnancies, when the sex of a foetus can be determined, came under the state's radar in 2012 when a major female foeticide racket was busted in Parli, Beed. A crackdown began on both ultrasonography and MTP centres. "State officials often tried to jointly implement the MTP and Pre-Conception & Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique (PCPNDT) Act creating a huge confusion," said Dr Gorakh Mandrupkar, a Sangli doctor who has been crusading against the mixed implementation of the laws.
A gynaecologist from Beed said officials believe every MTP in the second trimester is sex selective, though only 6-9% of abortions in the country are believed to be so. The anomaly scan that detects major physical abnor malities in a foetus can only be carried out between 18 to 20 weeks, which leaves a woman very little time to decide within the cutoff time of 20 weeks for MTP , he added.
Vinoj Manning, country director of Ipas, a non-profit that works for women's reproductive rights, said it is often the most vulnerable and poor women who are pushed to seek abortion late. "Even today, more than half of all abortions in the country are illegal, and drop in reported numbers means there are many more women who are being driven to illegal and unsafe providers increasing the chances of mortality and morbidity," he said. Pritam Potdar, associated with NGO Samyak that works for the rights of urban poor women, said studies in Marathwada and western Maharashtra have shown that women are routinely being denied abortion services. "Even state-run civil hospitals are turning away women because doctors fear elaborate paper work, record-keeping, or plan harassment at the hands of officials," she said. Potdar narrated the incident of a Latur woman, who was booked and jailed for six months on charges of killing her child even as she had a spontaneous abortion. "The environment is hardly conducive for women to demand MTP rights," she added.