Journal Article

The incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy in India, 2015

Reliable information on the incidence of induced abortion in India is lacking. Official statistics and national surveys provide incomplete coverage. Since the early 2000s, medication abortion has become increasingly available, improving the way women obtain abortions. The aim of this study was to estimate the national incidence of abortion and unintended pregnancy for 2015.

National abortion incidence was estimated through three separate components: abortions (medication and surgical) in facilities (including private sector, public sector, and non-governmental organisations [NGOs]); medication abortions outside facilities; and abortions outside of facilities and with methods other than medication abortion. Facility-based abortions were estimated from the 2015 Health Facilities Survey of 4001 public and private health facilities in six Indian states (Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Uttar Pradesh) and from NGO clinic data. National medication abortion drug sales and distribution data were obtained from IMS Health and six principal NGOs (DKT International, Marie Stopes International, Population Services International, World Health Partners, Parivar Seva Santha, and Janani). We estimated the total number of abortions that are not medication abortions and are not obtained in a health facility setting through an indirect technique based on findings from community-based study findings in two states in 2009, with adjustments to account for the rapid increase in use of medication abortion since 2009. The total number of women of reproductive age and livebirth data were obtained from UN population data, and the proportion of births from unplanned pregnancies and data on contraceptive use and need were obtained from the 2015–16 National Family Health Survey-4.

We estimate that 15·6 million abortions (14·1 million–17·3 million) occurred in India in 2015. The abortion rate was 47·0 abortions (42·2–52·1) per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. 3·4 million abortions (22%) were obtained in health facilities, 11·5 million (73%) abortions were medication abortions done outside of health facilities, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done outside of health facilities using methods other than medication abortion. Overall, 12·7 million (81%) abortions were medication abortions, 2·2 million (14%) abortions were surgical, and 0·8 million (5%) abortions were done through other methods that were probably unsafe. We estimated 48·1 million pregnancies, a rate of 144·7 pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years, and a rate of 70·1 unintended pregnancies per 1000 women aged 15–49 years. Abortions accounted for one third of all pregnancies, and nearly half of pregnancies were unintended.

Health facilities can have a greater role in abortion service provision and provide quality care, including post-abortion contraception. Interventions are needed to expand access to abortion services through better equipping existing facilities, ensuring adequate and continuous supplies of medication abortion drugs, and by increasing the number of trained providers. In view of how many women rely on self-administration of medication abortion drugs, interventions are needed to provide women with accurate information on these drugs and follow-up care when needed. Research is needed to test interventions that improve knowledge and practice in providing medication abortion, and the Indian Government at the national and state level needs to prioritise improving policies and practice to increase access to comprehensive abortion care and quality contraceptive services that prevent unintended pregnancy.