Background: Unsafe abortion in India leads to significant morbidity and mortality. Abortion has been legal in India since 1971, and the availability of safe abortion services has increased. However, service availability has not led to a significant reduction in unsafe abortion. This study aimed to understand the gap between safe abortion availability and use of services in Bihar and Jharkhand, India by examining accessibility from the perspective of rural, Indian women.
Methods: Two-stage stratified random sampling was used to identify and enroll 1411 married women of reproductive age in four rural districts in Bihar and Jharkhand, India. Data were collected on women's socio-demographic characteristics; exposure to mass media and other information sources; and abortion-related knowledge, perceptions and practices. Multiple linear regression models were used to explore the association between knowledge and perceptions about abortion.
Results: Most women were poor, had never attended school, and had limited exposure to mass media. Instead, they relied on community health workers, family and friends for health information. Women who had knowledge about abortion, such as knowing an abortion method, were more likely to perceive that services are available (β = 0.079; p < 0.05) and have positive attitudes toward abortion (β = 0.070; p < 0.05). In addition, women who reported exposure to abortion messages were more likely to have favorable attitudes toward abortion (β = 0.182; p < 0.05).
Conclusions: Behavior change communication (BCC) interventions, which address negative perceptions by improving community knowledge about abortion and support local availability of safe abortion services, are needed to increase enabling resources for women and improve potential access to services. Implementing BCC interventions is challenging in settings such as Bihar and Jharkhand where women may be difficult to reach directly, but interventions can target individuals in the community to transfer information to the women who need this information most. Interpersonal approaches that engage community leaders and influencers may also counteract negative social norms regarding abortion and associated stigma. Collaborative actions of government, NGOs and private partners should capitalize on this potential power of communities to reduce the impact of unsafe abortion on rural women.