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India abortions 20 times ‘higher than estimated’

15.6 million abortions take place in India each year – India bans condom advertisements from prime TV

SRINAGAR: A Kashmiri resident walks along a road following fresh snowfall on the outskirts of Srinagar yesterday. —AFP

NEW DELHI: Some 15.6 million abortions take place in India each year, with the majority of women taking pills at home without adequate counseling, a study said on Tuesday, calling for more trained doctors in public hospitals. The New York-based Guttmacher Institute’s research found that abortions are more than 22 times more common than the government’s estimate of less than 700,000 terminations, produced by focusing on state-run hospitals and clinics. Just over 80 percent of abortions took place at home using drugs like mifepristone and misoprostol, 14 percent were performed surgically in clinics and hospitals, and 5 percent were conducted using other, typically unsafe, methods.

“Women in India face considerable challenges trying to obtain abortion care, including the limited availability of abortion services in public health facilities,” the Guttmacher Institute’s investigator Susheela Singh, said in a statement. “Our findings suggest that a shortage of trained staff and inadequate supplies and equipment are the primary reasons many public facilities don’t provide abortion care,” she said of the study, published in the Lancet Global Health journal.

It is India’s first national study of the incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy, researchers said. Half of India’s more than 48 million pregnancies were unintended, and a third resulted in abortions, the study said, using 2015 abortion pill sales and distribution data and surveys of six highly populated states. Researchers said that close to three in four abortions were achieved using drugs from chemists and informal vendors, rather than from health facilities where proper counseling and health checks should be provided.

In addition, the public sector – the main source of health care for rural and poor women – accounted for only a quarter of abortions, partly because many state-run hospitals and clinics do not offer abortion services. “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,” said Chander Shekhar from the Mumbai-based International Institute for Population Sciences, which collaborated on the study. “This new evidence provides policymakers with information that is essential for designing and implementing effective reproductive health care programs,” he added in a statement.

Condom advertisements
Meanwhile, India has slapped a nationwide ban on television ads for condoms during prime time hours, citing rules prohibiting “vulgar” content and concerns over children viewing salacious material. The information and broadcasting ministry ordered India’s estimated 900 television channels to restrict condom commercials to between 10pm and 6am, threatening repercussions if the ads fall outside graveyard hours. “All TV channels are hereby advised not to telecast the advertisements of condoms which are (a) for particular age group and could be indecent for viewing by children,” the order said Monday. It also cited broadcasting regulations prohibiting “indecent, vulgar, suggestive, repulsive or offensive themes”.

India’s public and private television channels beam into nearly 183 million households across the country, data from the Broadcast Audience Research Council industry group shows. Advocates for birth control warned the blackout risked undoing decades of progress on sexual and reproductive health. The Population Foundation of India, a Delhi-based nonprofit, said condoms were one of the few methods available for family planning and encouraged men to also take responsibility for birth control. “What we need is a more sensitive approach without compromising on information and advocating for sexual and reproductive choice,” the charity’s executive director Poonam Muttreja said in a statement.

Sex remains a taboo subject in India, a broadly conservative and traditional country, and condom ads have stirred up controversy in the past. In September, India’s largest trading body successfully lobbied for condom billboards featuring a former porn star to be pulled down in Gujarat state, citing religious sensitivities. In lodging its protest, the trade body accused the condom manufacturer of putting “India’s cultural value at stake” by promoting contraceptives on the eve of a Hindu festival.- Agencies

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