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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 16:35 GMT
Dismay over Bush abortion move
Family on road
The decision will have little direct impact on India
By Vir Singh in Delhi

India has played down a decision by US President George Bush to end official aid to international groups that support abortion.

Many felt the move was expected.

Many people choose abortion as a way of spacing and limiting families

Ena Singh of the UN Population Fund
But experts in India say the measure ignores ground realities and will, in fact, lead to an increase in the number of abortions in developing countries.

Studies conducted in India show that an overwhelming number of women who undergo abortions do so because they lack access to contraceptives, counselling and other family planning services.

No surprise then that states with the highest numbers of abortions are among those with the lowest level of health, counselling and other social services.

"Many people choose abortion as a way of spacing and limiting families," says Ena Singh of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

"If family planning and quality reproductive health services are available, there will be a lot fewer abortions."

Abortion option

Indian planners stress that abortion, while not a cornerstone of the country's population policy, must be retained as an option.

US President George W Bush
President Bush: Abortion was first major policy decision
Imposing a ban would drive more women to illegal practitioners and expose them to great risk.

Conservative estimates indicate that about seven million abortions are performed in India each year.

Of these, only one million are done by government-approved doctors.

The remaining six million are performed by illegal providers, which can include trained doctors and nurses, traditional practitioners, birth attendants and village health workers.

Krishna Singh of the high-profile National Commission on Population, notes that 12% of India's more than 110,000 annual deaths from childbirth-related complications occur due to unsafe abortions.

Little direct impact

The US decision will have little, if any, direct impact on efforts to slow population growth in India, currently the world's second most populous country after China.

Indian women
Women often lack access to contraception or family planning help
Firstly, there is a strong consensus on the need to provide safe abortions and to simultaneously provide more family planning services.

Secondly, India does not depend heavily on foreign contributions for its population programmes.

While no exact figure is available for total spending in the country, which has one of the world's largest family planning programmes, analysts say outside funding is "minimal," perhaps no more than 10%.

Islamic world

While this development will not harm programmes in India, it will "definitely affect" several other countries, especially in the Islamic world, where there is little or no consensus on the need to provide safe abortions, says Poonam Muttreja of the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

Advocacy campaigns there pressing for better services, including abortions, will be hit hard by the withdrawal of US government funds.

Muttreja says this puts a "much greater responsibility on foundations such as ours" to help bridge the gap.

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See also:

23 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush blocks abortion funding
23 Jan 01 | Americas
EU condemns Bush abortion move
22 Jan 01 | Americas
The history of Roe vs Wade
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