India’s first over-the-counter emergency contraception pill was launched on Thursday. Called the i-pill, the one-pack medicine prevents unintended pregnancies if consumed within a maximum 72 hours after unsafe sex or a contraceptive failure.
I-pill is a one-pill pack that contains low doses of the hormone levonorgestrel, which prevents pregnancy by up to 89 per cent if taken within the recommended time. The sooner it is taken after unsafe sex, the higher are the chances of a woman not concieving.
Emergency contraception pills prevent pregnancy by stopping or delaying release of an egg (ovulation), blocking fertilisation by affecting the egg or sperm, or by prompting the lining of the uterus to reject implantation. “As a prescription medicine, levonorgestrel has been available in India for three years and the hormone’s dosage is so small that I have not had any complaints of side-effects,” says Dr Geeta Chadha, senior consultant gynaecologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals.
While making it available over-the-counter makes it easier for women to access it, but you cannot use it indiscriminately, warn doctors. “Women should not use it like a contraceptive pill because it can cause frequent fluctuations in hormonal levels,” warns Chadha.
India was among few countries in the world to allow abortion under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act in 1972. Despite the legal status of abortion in India, an estimated 5 million illegal abortions. For every legally induced abortion, there were 10 or 11 that were performed in unlicensed facilities or by unqualified health workers.
Though medical abortion is successful in up to 95 per cent women, over 20,000 women die because of unsafe abortion practices in India every year, reports IPAS, a non-profit group working worldwide to reduce abortion-related mortality. According to IPAS, about 9 per cent of all reported maternal deaths can be attributed to unsafe abortions.