India’s government has unveiled plans to allow specifically trained nurses and practitioners of traditional and alternative medicines to perform abortions in an attempt to make it easier for poor women to obtain abortions, but India’s doctors are campaigning against the measure, characterizing the feasibility studies as medical malpractice. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynecological Societies of India, which participated in both the amendment process and the design and authorship of one of the feasibility studies, has reversed course and now likewise opposes the proposal. Though abortion is allowed in India under relatively liberal conditions, lack of adequate medical facilities in rural areas and urban slums forces many women to attempt to self-terminate pregnancies or enlist the services of the unqualified. In an Op-Ed for The New York Times, Manil Suri, an author and professor, notes that Ipas, an international abortion care organization, estimates that five million abortions were carried out in India in 2013, with more than half of them unsafe. Suri writes that doctors are well aware that abortion drug kits, like most prescription medicines in India, are available without authorization, and rampant self-administration is the cause of a large number of injuries and deaths. Midlevel practitioners could easily be trained to verify that gestation is in the recommended early stage, to ensure the drug protocol is correctly followed, and to contact a supervisor in case of complications. Suri argues that doctors’ objections have less to do with women’s health than with worries over the government’s promotion of alternative medicines as medically equivalent but cheaper alternatives to modern medicine. In many cases they are correct to object to this equivocation, he contends, but in this case their objection could cost women their lives.
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