Health officials attribute this to improved diagnostic services 

Health: Despite improved antenatal care facilities, the number of abortion cases in the country has been on the rise over the years.

Records show that from 1,339 cases in 2011, it increased to 1,566 in 2015. The abortions include those done in health centres across the country and reported after an abortion has taken place.

Going by the 2015 figures, among the 1,566 abortions, women aged 20 to 49 years had the highest proportion of abortions at 95 percent. About 15 percent of women who were less than 20 years had also undergone abortions.

The highest numbers of abortion cases were reported in Thimphu and Sarpang followed by Chukha. There were 292 cases in Thimphu, 252 in Sarpang and 237 in Chukha. The least cases was reported in Gasa with five abortions.

According to the World Health Organisation, abortion is termination of a pregnancy before 20 weeks of gestation or of a fetus weighing less than 500 grams.

However, health officials said they don’t maintain a separate record for abortions done illegally and legal termination of foetus. Health officials also said that there are many forms of abortions such as illegal abortion, spontaneous and medical abortion, among others.

Health ministry’s department of medical services director general Dr Pandup Tshering attributed the increase in abortion cases to better diagnostic services unlike in the past. “Earlier problems were not diagnosed until the fetus is full term but only when a baby was born,” he said. “Now early detection has helped given the improved diagnostic services.”

Dr Pandup Tshering said that medical termination of a fetus is usually done when the continuation of the pregnancy is found to risk the health of a mother or the unborn child.

Despite medical termination of a fetus done in health centres, many couples opting for illegal abortions in the Indian border towns is seen as a major issue. Easy availability of abortion pills has further aggravated the issue.

Despite gruesome stories of illegal abortions, many Bhutanese women still choose to get abortions done in the border towns.  Kuensel learnt that the abortions are done in small, dingy rooms by quacks in Jaigaon, for which they charge between Nu 9,000 to 15,000.  Some abortions are also done in hotel rooms. Most women visit the health centres with post abortion complications while some even die from complications.

The women, child and youth committee of the National Assembly also raised the issue during the winter session of the Parliament. However, health minister Tandin Wangchuk clarified that the number of abortions isn’t alarming since most of the cases were miscarriages and some pre-mature deaths.

Dr Pandup Tshering said that couples usually undergo illegal abortions when they don’t want a child though there may not be any risk of continuation of the pregnancy. “Since such abortions are not allowed in Bhutan, they usually visit places outside for such abortions,” he said.

“There is always risk for people who undergo illegal abortion so couples should take precaution for unwanted pregnancy,” Dr Pandup Tshering emphasised.

Health ministry officials said that the ministry provides advocacy on regular antenatal check ups, good nutrition during pregnancy, check up for any problems during antenatal care and also advocacy on prevention of teenage pregnancy and use of contraception to prevent abortions.

Kinga Dema