By Manali Vasanth
If you were frustrated by how Jiah Khan’s death was reported to start with, you’ll be maddened by the resurgence of lurid headlines about Jiah, this time with a thin film of horror disguising a clear enjoyment at being able to air the intimate details of her medical history. News reports are telling us stuff like “Sooraj Pancholi removed Jiah’s foetus, disposed it in toilet, alleges CBI,” but since we both care about health and love science, we thought we’d brush up on our Biology.
The CBI’s chargesheet reportedly says that actor Jiah Khan was four weeks pregnant in January 2013. And that when she took MTP pills for an abortion (prescribed by a physician) and experienced haemorrhage, Sooraj Pancholi, her boyfriend at the time, extricated the foetus himself – while Jiah bled, one headline likes to emphasise – and flushed it down the toilet.
At just four weeks? Really?
So we did some research and asked gynaecologists about foetuses, pregnancies and abortions – the “graphic details” that news reports are gleefully warning us about. And here’s some stuff you need to know.
Four weeks into a pregnancy, there isn’t a foetus.
“Four weeks? There is no foetus at four weeks,” says Dr Savitha Srinivas, a gynaecologist who consults at Devgiri Hospital in Banashankari, Bangalore. “There is only a sac. The foetus develops at six weeks.” The size of a four week sac is less than 3mm long, and tinier than a grain of rice. Good luck finding it in the first place.
Abortion pills are meant to induce bleeding
Dr CN Vasanth, a physician and lecturer at Oxford Medical College, Bangalore explains: “In simple terms, the pregnancy is terminated via oral medication. This method is used in the first trimester or up to 12 weeks after conceiving. The combination of medications causes the uterus to contract, thus dislodging the foetus. MTP [Medical Termination of Pregnancy] pills work in 90 percent of all cases.”
When you’ve been prescribed MTP pills, here’s what you can expect: heavy bleeding. Dr Usha Vikranth, gynaecologist at Fortis Hospital, Nagarbhavi, Bangalore, says, “expect heavier-than-menstruation bleeding, accompanied by clots and cramps. Once the abortion is complete, the bleeding should diminish.” For pregnancies longer than nine weeks, a pregnancy sac will be visible with some tissue around it along with the blood. A pregnancy of four weeks will not have a visible sac that can be distinguished from the blood clots.
Still bleeding after three hours? Revisit the doc
If there is heavy bleeding for more than three hours, the patient must be taken to hospital as it could be a sign of an incomplete abortion, says Dr. Usha. “The patient is then treated by either D&C [dilation & curettage] or vacuum aspiration to empty the womb.”
The former is a procedure in which the cervix of the uterus is expanded or dilated so that the uterine lining (endometrium) can be removed with a spoon-shaped instrument called a curette.
Vacuum aspiration is a procedure where suction is used to gently pull out the foetus from the womb whilst under local anaesthesia.
Both procedures require special apparatus as well as highly trained personnel to carry them out safely.
Learn more about the human body. Specifically, the female body.
If you’ve read the chargesheet and are trying to create headlines that conjure up the image of a man pulling out a nearly-formed baby with his bare hands and attempting to flush it down the toilet, well, it’s time you went back to school.
The more likely scenario is that Jiah was four months pregnant when she took the pills, which is when an incomplete abortion might occur.
Only some news reports (like this one) say “four months” instead of four weeks. Did no one else think to verify this stuff before printing it, even if it’s the CBI chargesheet that might originally contain the error? Does no one know…basic science?
If you still don’t know enough about pregnancy, we’ll leave you with this nugget of info: at four months, a foetus is roughly the size of an orange.