Introduction: Advancements in prenatal diagnostic techniques have led to an increase in demand for termination of pregnancy for fetal anomalies (TOPFA). While relaxation in the legal gestational age limits across various countries relieves an important barrier, there is a need to identify the reasons that lead to delays in seeking abortion for fetal anomalies, because abortion-related complications increase with gestational age.
Methods: In this hospital-based qualitative study, antenatal women referred to a tertiary care institute in North India because of major fetal anomalies were explained about the study. Those women who fulfilled the inclusion criteria were recruited after taking consent. Details of antenatal care and prenatal tests were recorded. An in-depth inquiry was made into the reasons for the delay in prenatal tests, the delay in the decision for abortion, and specific problems that they faced in seeking TOPFA.
Results: Out of 80 women who met the inclusion criteria and consented to participate, more than 75% had received antenatal care in public healthcare facilities. Less than 50% of women received folic acid in the first trimester while 26% had first contact with healthcare facilities in the second trimester. Only 21 women underwent screening for common aneuploidies. Second-trimester anomaly scan was delayed in 35 women due to women-centered reasons (n = 17) or provider-centered (n = 19) reasons. Only 37.5% of women were counseled about fetal anomalies by their primary care provider. Owing to delay at multiple levels, 40 women (50%) could receive counseling about fetal abnormality for the first time after 20 weeks. These women could not be offered abortion because this study was carried out before the amendments in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in India. The older act allowed abortion up to 20 weeks of gestation. Seventeen women could obtain permission for an abortion from a court of law. Arrangements for travel and stay and dependence on family members were the main problems faced by women seeking TOPFA.
Conclusions: Delay in diagnosis of a fetal anomaly due to delay in seeking antenatal care, irregular follow-up, and lack of pre-test counseling are the major reasons for the delay in the decision for abortion. This is further compounded by inadequate post-test counseling. Lack of awareness, failure or delay in counseling, need to travel to another facility for abortion, dependence on family members, and financial issues are the major barriers.
Singla R, Banu NT, Arora A, Aggarwal N, Gupta M. Legal Limits Relaxed: Time to Look at Other Barriers Faced by Women Seeking Termination of Pregnancy for Fetal Anomalies. Cureus. 2023 Jan 24;15(1):e34144.