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Indian Catholic Doctor who fought against the “Human Pesticide"

Dr Ilka Maria Ferns, a Gynecologist

A Catholic physician never performed an abortion during her career, even though she was a part of the Indian government’s family planning program.
Dr Ilka Maria Ferns is a Gynecologist and was a member of the Family Planning Association of India (FPAI), a national body.

“During my career as a medical professional, I was part of federal government’s policy formulation on family planning, among other responsibilities in a long span of a career,” Dr Ilka said. “I told my authorities that I shall not perform any abortions in line with my Catholic faith.”

In those days, the authorities respected her stand, even if she was a government employee.

According to the Catholic faith, human life begins at conception and she would not perform any abortion as it goes against her faith and conviction.

“I do not want to take any stain of killing an innocent baby,” says Dr Ilka, a staunch Catholic from Hyderabad, South India.

Though she worked in Family Planning Commission, she never encouraged, nor did a single abortion. She as a good Catholic has stood by the Gospel ethics in protecting and saving the lives of God’s creation.

When she expressed her reason for not engaging in abortions, the Medical Association respected her conviction.

Modesty aside, she was able to “integrate her Catholic faith into her life and work,” she said.

“It was in my little way to witness my faith as a public servant,” she added.

According to the Center for Reproductive Rights, in 2021, India amended its 50-year-old abortion law.

“India’s current abortion law allows abortion during the first trimester with approval by a medical practitioner under specified conditions that include risk to health and life and sexual assault,” says the Center for Reproductive Rights, a think tank.

In India, daily about eight women die from complications related to unsafe abortion.  

Now retired, Ilka continues to serve the poor and collaborates with several civil society groups, charity organizations, and social ameliorating programs of various individuals and institutions, including the Catholic Church in India.

Ilka, around 70 years old is married to VK Varma and has two daughters, who are well settled as an engineer and a neurologist in Boston, America.

She appeared for the Union Public Service Commission, India's premier federal recruiting agency for top civil service officers of the Government of India. She was placed at 31 ranking positions in her exams.

While working in the Federal Government, one time, she had got an offer for a new job in Iran, Western Asia.

“It was with extremely high pay job, which I refused and opted to be in India to serve the country,” Ilka recalled.

The salary that was offered to her was tenfold of her pay then. “It was not all about the money, but I am a family-oriented person,” she said.

She declined the offer and decided to stay in India and serve the people and the community around her.

Ilka was to be the Director of Family Welfare for five States which she called off. She worked in Central Police Organization and retired as a higher grade administrator.

She had the Best Paper Presentation Award in 1990 by Indian Medical Association on Billings Ovulation Method Natural Family Planning.

Besides, she had won the Best Teacher Award on Natural Family Planning in 2000 in Bangalore, Karnataka state, south India.

Her biggest contribution is that she was a member of the Commission on Women's Health. She presented the complications of Tubectomy to FOGS (Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology, India) in 1998.

She fought for the abolition of sex determination of feticide following the sex determination test through the I.M.A and got the ordinance from the Government of India to stop it and called it “Human Pesticide.” she wrote in all the leading papers against human pesticide abortion pill R4486.

Ilka was a member of the Ethics Committee in LV Prasad Hospital and was on the Editorial Board of Health Action Magazine of the Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) for 10 years.

She worked with World Health Organization (WHO) on their project for Natural Family Planning with CREST in Bangalore. She is also featured in UNI Magazine in 2019.
Currently, she is working with palliative care of cancer patients under the auspices of CHAI, the premier Catholic healthcare hospital association in India.  

Ilka tirelessly worked during the Covid-19 pandemic on free telemedicine consultation and was awarded "Covid Warrior" by an ecumenical body in Hyderabad city, the capital of the southern Indian state. 


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