Medical abortion in rural Tamil Nadu, South India: a quiet transformation

Lakshmi Ramachandar, Pertti J Pelto
Reproductive Health Matters 2005, 13 (26): 54-64
The medical abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol are now widely available in rural Tamil Nadu, India, and the practice of abortion is being transformed. This paper reports on current attitudes and practices concerning medical abortion among qualified abortion providers in a rural area of Tamil Nadu. Interviews were carried out with a purposive sample of 40 doctors, 15 informants at chemist shops, 10 village health nurses and 23 women who had recently had an abortion. Twelve of the 37 private doctors who were providing abortions, were providing medical abortion to 70-80% of their patients and 12 others to a selected minority. Eleven had largely rejected it and still used D&C, two had never heard of it. A number of doctors were using misoprostol for cervical dilatation prior to D&C. Some doctors and women who were concerned about incomplete abortion and heavy bleeding did not have a clear idea of what normal bleeding with medical abortion was. Incorrect regimens with second trimester medical abortions might have been responsible for cases of excessive bleeding. Most chemist shops said they were selling the tablets only on prescription, but doctors reported widespread over-the-counter sales. Medical abortion appeared to be quite acceptable to most women, and women were increasingly requesting it. Mechanisms are needed for sharing information about medical abortion among professionals, community health workers and rural families. The state government should develop a comprehensive plan for incorporating medical abortion into the public health system.

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