Data obtained from the BMC public health department shows that abortion rate was down by half with only 7,865 women undergoing medical termination of pregnancy (MTP) in the five-month period from April to August. The city witnesses about 35,000 abortions every year.
The Covid-19 lockdown began on March 25 and continues even today, albeit in a relaxed form with many restrictions lifted.
From April 2019 to March 2020, Mumbai had registered 35,778 abortions, a small drop from the previous year’s figure of 36,315.
‘Pvt hospitals have failed women in last 5 months’
RTI activist Chetan Kothari, who obtained the data from the BMC public health department, said: “The city has witnessed over 30,000 abortions annually for the last five years. Even if one considers that 2,500 to 3,000 women seek MTP every month, the number for the April-August period this year is low.’’ The BMC data is compiled by seeking details from each gynaecologist registered to offer MTP services. While the municipal wards in Andheri, K-West and K-East, usually register the maximum number of medical terminations, the wards counted 1,275 and 657 abortions in the April-August period.
BMC executive health officer Dr Mangala Gomare said abortion services were available at public healthcare facilities throughout the Covid-19 lockdown period but transport could have been an issue for women. While local trains are not available for the general public, other public transport services were made sparingly available in April and May.
“There also was widespread fear over Covid-19 in the initial lockdown period, resulting in very few people venturing out of their homes,” a doctor from the gynaecology department of a BMC hospital said.
BMC additional municipal commissioner Suresh Kakani said MTP services were available at almost every public set-up. “We have 28 maternity homes and just three were declared as Covid-only facility. Many of our suburban and superspecialty hospitals offered non-Covid services,” he said.
Sangeeta Rege of Cehat, which helps with the running of Dilaasa crisis intervention centres in BMC hospitals, said that MTP was among the services declared essential by the Centre in mid-April.
She felt while the public hospitals did their bit for Covid-19, the private sector failed to step in and help out.
“Public hospitals bore the burden of Covid throughout these five months. Many healthcare providers were redeployed to other facilities and institutions and it became difficult for BMC hospitals to continue providing essential services. Despite this, three rape survivors who required MTP were provided services at public hospitals,” she said.
“The private health sector failed women majorly even during these times. Not only did many private facilities shut shop, those that were open doubled the costs citing PPEs,” Rege said.
In a research paper released a month ago, IPAS, an international NGO that focuses on increased access to safe abortion and contraception, estimated that 1.85 million abortions were compromised during the first phase of the lockdown in the country.
IPAS estimates 15.6 million abortions happen nationwide every year, with 73% of these through medical abortion.
“We estimate that in usual times, 3.9 million abortions would have taken place in the three-month period. Of these, access to 1.85 million abortions, or 47%, is likely to be compromised due to a combination of factors impacting the health system, supply chain of medical abortion drugs and mobility of women/their partners,” the IPAS document said.