Rise in Unintended Pregnancies during COVID-19
When we unveil these otherwise veiled problems regarding abortion and redefine necessity, it is at this juncture that a realisation erupts, the realisation to declare abortion an essential health service amid the pandemic.
A totally unexpected offshoot of the pandemic has been a sharp rise in unwanted pregnancies. This could be due to the incidences of domestic violence and unavailability of contraceptives. People have been forced to stay at home with the lockdown declared by government (s) due to the global pandemic COVID-19. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projected an alarming possibility of seven million unwanted pregnancies, if the lockdown continues for another six months. This is indeed a matter of grave concern.
Being caged within the four walls with aggressive, violent men, who think it is justified to unleash their unwanted and unreasonable frustration on women; the propensity of being beaten and raped increases manifold for a woman. The situation is exacerbated by woman who has to face the brunt of a toxic relationship. There are thousands of unreported cases where a woman is forced to have sex and ends up being pregnant. The study conducted by UNFPA evaluated two ways this pandemic could contribute to more gender-based violence (GBV). ‘The first is through disruptions in programmes to prevent violence and provide services, care and support to survivors. The second is through increased total acts of violence as lockdown keep women inside with their abusers and households endure stressors like economic turmoil’. The study further suggested that for every three months the lockdown continues, an additional 15 million extra cases of GBV is expected. The data note that over 47 million women in more than 114 low and middle-income countries across the world currently lie at risk of sexual abuse and unwanted pregnancies during the lockdown.
Dr Natalia Kanem, Executive Director, UNFPA, shared in a recent media statement that ‘This new data shows the catastrophic impact that COVID-19 could soon have on women and girls globally. The pandemic is deepening inequalities, and millions more women and girls now risk losing the ability to plan their families and protect their bodies and their health’.
Lack of Access to Family Planning Aids
Quarantine makes women more likely to get pregnant unintentionally. Contraceptive supplies from condoms to the morning-after pill are becoming harder to access. The problem gets aggravated manifold in the case of unmarried/live-in couples. The threat of accidental pregnancy clouds their mind. The nationwide COVID-19 lockdown and lack of access to family planning methods are set to reduce the use of contraceptives across the country by 15–-23 per cent, as per an assessment by the country’s largest provider of clinical family planning services in the private sector.
It is estimated that 25.6 million couples would have not been able to access contraceptive services during the period of the lockdown.
This is likely to result in an additional 2.38 million unintended pregnancies, 679,864 childbirths, 1.45 million abortions, including 834,042 unsafe abortions and 1,743 maternal deaths, said the analysis by the Foundation of Reproductive Health Services India.
Limited Availability of Services
Such an unmet need for contraceptives followed by unintended pregnancy may further increase due to several reasons such as limited service by hospitals, absence of public transport and inadequate supply of contraceptives in local chemist shops. First, during lockdown, it is most likely that health workers are occupied with COVID-19 response or preparedness. Second, couples might restrain their visits to health facilities looking for abortion and other family planning methods fearing infection. Finally, reverse migration might also have an impact, especially among the poverty-stricken couples who have fewer means of economic engagement and meaningful entertainment.
Abortion during COVID-19
The worst problem faced by a woman is accessing safe abortion in a country like India. Abortion in normal times is equivalent to mounting a hill in this country. In exceptional times like this, the issue of accessing safe abortion is aggravated. The underlying concern is not restricted to the question of accessibility; it delves into a bigger arena of ignorance and lack of apathy to a woman’s issue, which has been the prevailing norm in a society ridden with patriarchy.
When we unveil these otherwise veiled problems regarding abortion and redefine necessity, it is at this juncture that a realization erupts, the realization to declare abortion an essential health service amid the pandemic.
Given the fact that the majority of abortions are done in the first trimester, which makes them safe; when the country goes under lockdown, a woman who is already unable to avail abortion due to various factors has to wait longer.
This makes the process of abortion unsafe and complex.
A Serious Concern to Be Addressed
While nationwide lockdown has been unavoidable and is a wise decision to contain the spread of the virus, there is a need to address the possibility of an unintended baby boom among poor and vulnerable groups. Unwanted pregnancy is a tremendous public health concern in India that leads to unsafe abortions and high maternal mortality. It puts both mother and child at risk. Children born due to unintended pregnancy may suffer from malnutrition, negligence, illness and even death. At the societal level, it has far-reaching socio-economic implications.
Massive awareness on family planning methods is needed during the ‘Stay Home’ period to avoid a baby boom or unwanted abortions. The availability of family planning methods should be considered as an essential service and delivered in rural India. It is also important to train health workers to provide consultation on family planning services by alternative modes such as digital tools, home visits, mobile clinics, etc. At the same time, incentives may be provided to the health workers for continuing maternal and child health services.