Simplifying Reproductive Health in Low-Resource Settings : Access to medical abortion and contraceptive choice, the importance of gendered structures in Rajasthan

Abstract: India introduced family planning in the ‘50s, legalized abortion in the ‘70s, and accomplished a remarkable drop in maternal mortality and fertility since 1990. Nevertheless, abortions account for a large proportion of maternal deaths, and sterilization is the most frequently used contraception. This thesis aims to identify the means to simplify and increase access to reproductive health in low-resource settings, focusing on abortion and contraception in Rajasthan.A randomized controlled trial compared simplified follow-up, where women assess their abortion outcome at home after early medical abortion, with in-clinic follow-up. Additionally, contraceptive use was compared between study groups post-abortion. In order to explore young women’s opportunities to access reproductive health services in the area, we conducted in-depth interviews with recently-married women.Women in the home-assessment group preferred home-assessment in the future to a greater extent than the women in the clinic follow-up group, who preferred in-clinic follow-up. Complete abortions were reported in 95% of women in the ‘home-assessment group’ and 93% in the ‘in-clinic group’, suggesting that efficacy of simplified follow-up is non-inferior to in-clinic follow-up. A majority (81%) of women carried out the pregnancy test and found it easy to use. Women (96%) were satisfied with their abortion. There were no differences in contraceptive use between study groups at three months; however, women in the ‘in-clinic group’ were most likely to initiate contraception at two weeks. A majority of women preferred the three-month injection, while only 4% preferred sterilization. The recently-married women considered reversible contraception to be unfeasible due to misconceptions and taboos, yet women wanted effective contraception because their current use of traditional methods resulted in unintended pregnancies. Abortions were common, and were procured from private or informal providers.Allowing women to take an active role in reproductive health services can enable simplification of, and access to, reproductive services in low-resource settings as well as in other settings. Simplifying medical abortion, providing contraception ‘intra-abortion’, and offering a context-appropriate and effective means of contraception, creates a great potential to increase access to reproductive health services and can result in a more equal society where women, and men, can attain their sexual and reproductive rights.