India has declared abortion an 'essential' service, but medical experts and health professionals say one and a half million women will not be able to access safe abortion services during the lockdown. There will be over 8 lakh unwanted childbirths, according to projections.
On World Population Day, in a panel discussion, Dr.Kalpana Apte, Anubha Rastogi and VS Chandrashekar talked about 'Coronavirus Pandemic and unintended pregnancies, what's our future?'
"We're well past the worst-case scenario of prediction when it comes to access to contraceptives," said VS Chandrashekar, CEO at Foundation for Reproductive Health Services India (FRHS).
Dr Kalpana Apte, CEO, FPA India, said that the impact of the pandemic on women have been much larger. "Women got poorer during the lockdown. They didn't have access to get to the 'essential' services in the lockdown." Dr Apte pointed out that only 30% women in India can take decisions about their own health. "Services dropped by 60% during the lockdown. Even in green zones, women don't come to clinics, now that the lockdown is lifted," she said.
Anubha Rastogi, Human Rights Lawyer, said, "Access to abortion in India isn't a right. It's legal depending on medical urgency. When the opinion of one doctor is enough for childbirth, why do we need multiple doctors when it comes to abortion?
Chandrashekar pointed out that the policies are not in tune with what we want to tell our young population. "Why are condom advertisements only shown at night?" he asked. "Eighty-one per cent of abortions in India are performed using medical abortion drugs. It's time India steps up to take the onus of women's reproductive health," he said.
On the question whether the government should implement a one/two-child policy, Dr Kalpana Apte said, "Two children have become the desired average family size in India. If the government keeps pushing for a one-child policy, the woman having the child is going to be the one bearing the brunt." Dr Apte said, "One of the biggest myths that need to be busted is that family size depends on religion or socio-economic conditions. That's not true. It only depends on where you live, irrespective of socio-economic background or religion. It depends on your access to healthcare."
"Implementing a policy like that will be a gross violation of human rights in a democracy like India," Chandrashekar added.
You can watch the complete discussion here.