21 Aug 2012
Eighteen weeks pregnant, she had two weeks left to have a legal abortion. Yet every private hospital in Pune turned her away, with gynaecologists afraid to touch her. The hapless woman thought of seeking help from the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) unit of state–run Sassoon General Hospital but finally, officials there said, lost her nerve as she did not want an abortion at a hospital that was not "hygienic".
This woman’s case in Pune has echoes in various districts in Maharashtra, where it has become almost an unwritten rule among gynaecologists not to take up cases related to abortions in the second trimester, which starts after 12 weeks.
A crackdown starting from Beed, where 12 female foetuses were unearthed, coupled with health authorities inspecting records statewide to check illegal sex selection, has sparked a wave of fear among gynaecologists, radiologists and even chemists.
The move has boomeranged, admitted Dr Ajit Patil, a member of the state supervisory board for the Preconception and Prenatal Diagnostic Techniques (PC–PNDT) Act. "We have raised this issue in our meetings as the MTP Act allows a woman her right to abortion," said Patil.
He cited an incident at Ichalkaranji near Kolhapur, where a woman aborted outside a private maternity home and was later treated by the doctors for heavy bleeding. The doctors called up the civil authorities implementing the Act. Yet the next day, news items appeared about how a "suspicious sex selective abortion was performed at the maternity home". "This is a frightening episode and the matter was taken up till the district collector," Dr Patil said.
Dr Anil Patil, secretary of the Indian Medical Association in Jalgaon, agreed. "Second trimester abortions have come to a standstill. At Bhusawal near Jalgaon, doctors are terrified that their centres will be sealed or get unwanted publicity. In one incident, the doctor refused to hand over the bodies of stillborn twins delivered by a woman until the police were notified and a panchnama was made."
The state PC–PNDT nodal cell report shows the large scale of inspections. In Pune alone, 216 have been inspected with three sealed.
The sense of fear all this has instilled goes beyond gynaecologists. For the past three weeks, abortion pills have not been easily available. A state–level meeting on August 23 aims at addressing the worries of chemists who would rather not stock abortion pills than face the wrath of Food and Drug Administration officials.
Said Dr P K Shah, national president of the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India, "Gynaecologists are being unnecessarily harassed in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Why is the government seeking details of patients’ records that are meant to be confidential under the MTP Act? These details can only be given to the judiciary if required. Most of our FOGSI branches in Jalgaon, Ahmednagar and Amravati went on strike refusing to conduct abortions."
"We want the government to spell out exact guidelines on what they really expect from us," said Dr Sanjay Gupte, central advisory board member of the PC–PNDT Act.
The Marathwada belt has been particularly affected and districts like Osmanabad, Beed, Aurangabad, Nanded have stopped second trimester abortions. Said Dr Shobha Deshpande, in charge of the FOGSI unit at Buldhana: "All this spells only bad news, like increasing maternal mortality."