Family planning: Women are using the wrong drugs for abortions as quick contraception

Published: January 30, 2012

Eighty per cent of abortion-related deaths are caused by infections that break out after an unsafe intervention, say experts. Abortions are not a good way to limit your family. The pill or other prophylactics are encouraged instead. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

KARACHI: It is no secret that abortions are a popular method of family planning for many married women, mostly those who live in Pakistan’s countryside where heath care services are patchy at best. However, this controversial and relatively unsafe method of terminating unwanted pregnancies brings with it a host of complications and potentially fatal infections.

In fact, a study puts one in six pregnancies ending in abortion. Renowned gynaecologist Dr Shershah Syed estimates that more than 70% of abortions performed in backstreet clinics in unsafe conditions and by unskilled people result in complications or serious infections. More than 80% of abortion-related deaths are caused by infections.

Taking into account the need for an education, understanding and skill development for abortions and other maternal and neonatal challenges, a three-day training workshop was organised at the Najmuddin Auditorium at Jinnah hospital from Friday to Sunday. An intensive course in emergency obstetrics and neonatal care was organised in partnership with the National Committee for Maternal and Neonatal Health (NCMH) with the Association for Mothers and Newborns (AMAN).

“There are many other [safe] methods of family planning and birth spacing women can use yet many [uneducated and rural] women continue to rely on abortions,” said obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Azra Ahsan, who is also presently the secretary-general for AMAN. Instead, Ahsan says, these women seem to prefer abortions as it is a one-time fix for them as opposed to the daily routine of taking the pill etc.

However, besides the more common prophylactic methods and instruments such as condoms and contraceptive pills, there are other options such as the ‘coil’ or intrauterine contraceptive device or injections, which can protect against unwanted pregnancies for an extended period of time.

But Ahsan highlights another risky trend surrounding women seeking abortions. They visit the pharmacist before consulting the doctor. “Pharmacists prescribe a medication, Gynaecosid, which they believe induces an abortion but in reality it doesn’t,” Ahsan says. What actually happens is if a woman misses her menstrual cycle for any other hormone-related reasons other than pregnancy Gynaecosid stimulates menstruation. “Once women start bleeding they feel as if they have aborted when in reality they were never pregnant to begin with.”

Misoprostol is considered a safer option but it is not advisable to take it without consulting a doctor. “Misoprostol was originally used to treat gastric ulcers and later it was discovered that abortion was a side effect of the medicine,” Ahsan said. As a golden rule, however, doctors advise that pregnant women should not take medication of any kind, especially during the first trimester.

Speaking separately on the topic, Dr Sherhah Syed says women who may have aborted a pregnancy need to keep extra care not just of their personal hygiene and sanitation but also of the cleanliness of their environment. “Women must be vigilant about infection-control even if the abortion was in a hospital which maintains good standards of quality.” However, he says, women can go back to normal work and personal activities after 48 hours of rest post abortion.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 30th, 2012.

Reader Comments (4)

  • does it matter
    Jan 30, 2012 - 12:55PM

    Gr8 News…now ppl know which is the right medicine. So this can be used for legitimate aborstion and more imp if somebody was not so carefull..while u know …so enjoy

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  • Jan 30, 2012 - 1:05PM

    I’m sorry, but Dr. Azra’s hypothesis is ridiculous.

    No woman in her right mind, especially one living in a country where abortion is illegal, prefers abortion over contraception. In fact, with the latest IUCDs, contraception doesn’t even have to be a daily routine. Contrary to what the anti-abortion crowd would like you to believe, abortion isn’t recreation for these women; it’s the last resort of a desperate mother who cannot afford to raise a child.

    You ban abortions, maternal mortality rises. You legalize abortion, the mortality rate drops as these procedures are then carried out safely by trained doctors. This isn’t conjecture, it’s the simple science of community medicine.

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  • fareeha
    Jan 30, 2012 - 1:20PM

    Family planning is a big issue but due to ignorance and mullah the right information is not gettign to people who need this information most like in villages and small towns. In many countries like Iran and Bangladesh very extensive family planning programs are in place to improve the living standard and education.

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  • SalSal
    Jan 30, 2012 - 3:46PM

    @fareeha
    In Iran there’s a mullah government if you didn’t know.
    Abortion is not illegal over here. Even if it was, it wouldn’t make a difference. Other than that, trained doctors charge alot more than majority of the population can afford. That’s why people go to cheaper untrained doctors. K they aren’t even doctors I think

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