Unsuccessful prior attempts to terminate pregnancy among women seeking first trimester abortion at registered facilities in Bihar and Jharkhand, India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Many abortion seekers in India attempt to induce abortion on their own, by accessing oral medication/preparations from a chemist without a prescription or from an unauthorized provider, and present at registered facilities if these attempts fail. However, little is known about those whose efforts fail or the ways in which programmes and policies may address the needs of such women. This paper explores the experiences of women whose efforts failed, including their socio-demographic profile, the preparations they used, and the extent to which they experienced serious complications, delayed seeking care from an authorized provider, or delayed abortion until the second trimester of pregnancy. Data come from a larger study assessing the feasibility of the provision of medical abortion by non-physicians; a total of 3394 women who sought medical abortion from selected clinical settings in Bihar and Jharkhand between 2008 and 2010 constitute the sample. Prior to visiting the clinic, nearly a third of these women (31%) had made at least one unsuccessful attempt to terminate the unwanted pregnancy by using a range of oral medications/preparations available over-the-counter in medical shops. Logistic regression analysis suggests that educated women (OR 1.6–1.7), those from urban areas (OR 6.2) and those from Bihar (OR 1.6) were significantly more likely than women with no education, rural women and those from Jharkhand to have used such medication. Also notable is that the average gestational age of women who had made a previous attempt to terminate their pregnancy was almost identical to that of women who had not done so when they presented at the registered facility. These findings may inform policies and programmes that seek to identify and reduce the potential risks associated with unauthorized abortion-seeking practices, and highlight the need to fully inform women, chemists and providers about oral medications, what works and what does not, and how effective medication must be taken.