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With limited access to the morning-after pill, women in TN pop abortion pills, endangering their lives

Think Change India
23rd Feb 2016
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The morning-after pill has virtually disappeared from pharmacies in Tamil Nadu. It’s been 10 years since the government came down strictly on the sale of the pill. As a result women have taken to abortion pills without medical scrutiny, leading to a surge in unhealthy, life-threatening abortions. “We see cases of septic abortions that make blood transfusion and surgery essential,” said obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Nazira Sadique, assistant professor at Sri Ramachandra Medical University.

Image: Marie Stopes
Image: Marie Stopes

At her hospital, which works as a referral centre, 40 per cent of women who underwent abortions came with complications after taking abortion pills without prescription. These women were then taken for emergency treatment that included surgical abortion.

A study by a postgraduate student found that these women had bought prescription pills over the counter for anything between Rs 500 and Rs 700 from medical stores. After talking to the women, the study found that some of them did not know that their pregnancy was ectopic (outside the uterus) and some had taken the pills too late. A few women took them in the wrong order or at inadequate intervals. Doctors say this has led to complications and death. Doctors in other hospitals said they did not have statistics because most women didn’t reveal that they had taken abortion pills, and report complications as part of spontaneous abortion. “It’s tough to find out if women have taken these pills. We have no time to waste on that either,” said gynaecologist Dr Uma Ram of Seethapathy Nursing Home.

Several bodies such as the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India and the state chapter of Indian Medical Association have urged Tamil Nadu to tighten sale of abortion pills and relax the rules on morning-after pills. In the absence of contraceptives, doctors say that the morning-after pills are the best alternative for a woman to avoid the strain of an abortion, reported The Times Of India.

The Office of Population Research at Princeton University, USA, explains that emergency contraceptive pills are often called ‘morning after pills’ and sometimes even ‘day after pills’ because you can use them after sex to prevent pregnancy. Most of the time, when someone mentions ’emergency contraceptive pills’, ‘morning after pills’, or the ‘day after pill’, they are talking about using the same hormones found in regular daily oral contraceptive pills to reduce your chances of becoming pregnant if you had sex without using contraception, you think your birth control failed, or you were made to have sex against your will.

Even though there’s no difference between what these terms refer to, calling emergency contraceptive pills ‘morning after pills’ or ‘day after pills’ can be misleading because you can use them right away – and you may have up to 120 hours (five days) after sex to take the pills and still prevent pregnancy, depending on how close you are to ovulating, as reported by Princeton (this website is operated by the Office of Population Research at Princeton University and by the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals and has no connection with any pharmaceutical company or for-profit organisation). 

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