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International Day of Action for Women’s Health 2020: Safe abortion services

In today’s day and age, the restriction around women’s access to safe abortion is preposterous. The Pratigya Campaign aims to destigmatize the conversation around abortion. Abortion is an essential healthcare service and should be a key constituent of universal health coverage.
In the Indian context, abortion is still a stigmatized subject and considered taboo, for most of the population. While abortion has always been and continues to be an extremely controversial subject, the Campaign aims to uphold the sexual and reproductive health and rights of all women and provide complete bodily autonomy to them.
Marking the International Day of Action for Women’s Health 2020, the Pratigya Campaign for Gender Equality and Safe Abortion hosted a Virtual Press Conference on 28th May 2020 to elaborate on how denial of safe abortion services can disproportionately affect women’s lives – both physically and mentally.
Around the world, at a time when health systems are overstretched due to COVID-19 pandemic, services for women are often among the first to suffer, resulting in increased maternal and child morbidity and mortality. In an attempt to understand the impact, Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India (FRHS India) had also commissioned a policy brief highlighting the estimates of the loss of services during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It is estimated that 25.6 million couples would have not been able to access family planning services during the period of the lockdown and weeks leading up to complete normalcy i.e September 2020.
Speaking at the virtual press conference, VS Chandrashekar, Chief Executive Officer, Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India and Pratigya Campaign Advisory Group Member, said, “As per our policy brief on impact of COVID-19 on India’s family planning programme, we feel that the worst-case scenario is set to unfold. Due to the large number of couples being unable to access these pertinent services, we have estimated that this will result in 29.5 lakh unintended pregnancies in the country, and over 18 lakh abortions. The overall impact on the family planning programme in 2020 is estimated to be between 15-23%. This is an eye-opener, and there is a need for the Government intervention.”
To illustrate the risks on access to sexual and reproductive health services during the current scenario, Ipas Development Foundation modelled the pandemic’s unintended adverse impact on SRH which assesses the near-term (three months) impact of COVID-19 on abortion access in the country.
Vivek Malhotra, CEO, Population Health Services India & CAG Member, Pratigya Campaign, further shed light on lack of access to contraception: “In our experience, we have noted that women usually do not stock over a month’s supply of oral contraceptives, hence facing a shortage since March due to the lack of availability. Furthermore, other contraception measures like IUDs have also not been made available across the four phases of the lockdown”.
Richa Salvi, Technical Programme Manager, Family Planning Association of India & CAG Member went on to comment on the state of our public healthcare system at present: “There is a huge gap in the number of demand of abortions versus the number of registered medical providers, which needs to be bridged in order for women to benefit.”
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