A legacy of botched abortions in border towns

A spate of such cases raises the legalisation issue among medical personnel

Abortion: Against the doctor’s advice and fearing that bleeding during pregnancy would result in conceiving a deformed baby, a woman from Gomtu earlier this year aborted her foetus in the Indian border town of Jaigoan.

Before going across the border, she had visited Phuentsholing general hospital requesting an abortion.  She was about four months pregnant then and bleeding a little.  Although medical tests found the foetus developing well, she was not convinced.

She visited the hospital again, but this time with post abortion complications.  She was bleeding profusely and told the doctor that she had miscarried.  However, doctors knew that she had undergone abortion, as her cervix (opening of the uterus) was torn.

Every month, Phuentsholing hospital treats about two to three women with post abortion complications.  Most women, who come with complications, had taken abortion pills.

Info courtesy: Jigme Choden, chief nurse, Nganglam BHU I, Pemagatshel

Health officials said since more women are aware of the risks of abortions in the border towns; they have started taking abortion pills to terminate a pregnancy.  A dose of the pill costs between Nu 150 to 250.

Gynaecologist at Phuentsholing hospital, Dr Kesang, said they get post abortion complication cases, because of easy availability of abortion pills in almost all medical shops in Jaigaon. “Most women visit the hospital for heavy bleeding,” Dr Kesang said. “Some admit that they have taken abortion pills.”

Despite stories of gruesome abortions, many Bhutanese women still choose to get abortions done in the Indian border towns.  Kuensel learnt that the abortions are done in small, dingy rooms by quacks in Jaigaon, for which they charge about Nu 9,000 to 15,000.  Some abortions are also done in hotel rooms.

In the past, Phuentsholing hospital also recorded several deaths from post abortion complications, besides severe complications from incomplete abortions.  In 2010, the hospital recorded about 118 such cases.

Health officials said many Bhutanese women still risk their lives trying to get rid of

unwanted pregnancies in Jaigaon.

A 2013 study by chief nurse of Nganglam basic health unit (BHU) Jigme Choden, which was also shared during the recent annual medical conference, found that a majority of abortions are done in Jaigaon, followed by Patshala Rangapani that borders Nganglam.

The rest did it in their homes, and about four percent went to Melabazaar in Samdrupjongkhar.  A total of 683 women between 15 to 49 years were surveyed on unplanned pregnancies.

The respondents were women, who had visited Nganglam BHU and four outreach clinics in Nganglam.  It was also found that about 56 percent of the respondents knew about abortion, while about 43 percent didn’t.  Reasons cited for abortions were non-availability of emergency contraceptives and societal pressure on women.

Phuentsholing hospital officials said patients of post abortion complications mainly cited contraceptive failure and financial issues to raise a child as reasons for getting an abortion.

“There are also young couples, who live together but aren’t sure if they’d be married,” Dr Kesang said. “We also get many women requesting abortion for unplanned pregnancies.”

Going by the number of post abortion complication cases, some of which are horribly done, Dr Kesang said it was better if abortion was legalised in Bhutan. “It could save lives and also give women a choice,” she said.

However, during the study, almost 90 percent of health workers said abortion should not be legalised.  Among the respondents, 23 percent, said abortion should be legalised, 13 percent said it shouldn’t, while 64 percent said they were unsure.

“Women die of unsafe abortions, not abortions,” chief nurse Jigme Choden said.

Records with the health ministry show an increase in abortions every year.  From 1,057 abortions in 2009, the number increased to 1,342 in 2014.  However, health officials said they don’t maintain a separate record for abortions done illegally and legal termination of foetus.

By Kinga Dema, P/ling

1 reply
  1. MIGNIEN
    MIGNIEN says:

    I am waiting comments of IRFAN about this health problem concerning women . Bhutan is a young democracy who is building her regulations over current subjects ; for example , lack of regulations over privacy laws ( see DIGITAL PRIVACY / ISSUES ANDD CHALLENGES ) that I am being tranlate in french for french speaking bhutanese guides ( 5 over 300 !!) and for tourists .

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