New Delhi: Abortion pills—Mifepristone and Misoprostol—will soon be part of the list of essential drugs, as per a proposal by the ministry of health and family welfare which is planning to phase out older technologies like dilatation and curettage.

The expert group on formulating guidelines on medical methods of abortion constituted by the ministry stated that the pills were among the safest techniques for abortion and offer an opportunity to increase access to abortion care services, especially in early pregnancy.

They can be offered at all levels of healthcare, including the primary level. They can also be provided on an outpatient basis, it said.

“There is an urgent need to empower women with decision-making ability for choosing the right method for abortion. With introduction of medical methods of abortion using a combination of two drugs—mifepristone and misoprostol—women’s access to safe abortion services has further been strengthened globally and in India," a senior ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“MMA drugs need to be part of the essential drug list for all states. This combination of drugs needs to be part of the routine procurement process to ensure availability at all facilities offering safe abortion services by a trained healthcare provider," the official said.

Apart from medical methods of abortion, the health ministry is also promoting technologies like Electric Vacuum Aspiration (EVA) and Manual Vacuum Aspiration (MVA) techniques to remove uterine contents.

Abortion has been legal in India for over four decades since the introduction of the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971. Yet the expert group found that there are numerous barriers limiting access to safe abortion services, including a shortage of trained healthcare providers, lack of infrastructure at the facilities and lack of information about legality and availability of services among women and the community at large.

According to the ministry, unsafe abortions are the third largest cause of maternal deaths in India and contribute to 8% of all maternal deaths despite being a preventable cause of death. Each day close to 10 women die on account of unsafe abortions.

“Medical methods of abortion, EVA, MVA and D&C are all effective procedures only if done by safe and trained hands. There is a shortage of trained healthcare providers in India. We have been emphasizing on including mifepristone and misoprostol in the essential drugs list as per guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO)," said Suneeta Mittal, consultant to the Union health ministry on reproductive health programs.

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