By Nicole Catá, Policy Intern
What if the worldwide controversy over abortion could be solved with a small, $1 pill? That is the question Nicholas Kristof asks in his column, which describes a pill that induces abortions. He notes two potential benefits of the bill, the first being its easy access for women who may not be able to pay for abortion procedures, even risky ones:
Five-sixths of abortions take place in developing countries, where poor sterilization and training often make the procedure dangerous. Up to 70,000 women die a year from complications of abortions, according to the World Health Organization.
The safe and inexpensive pill could revolutionize women’s health in developing countries and prevent thousands of death at the hands of draconian anti-choice laws due to the second benefit Kristof notes: misoprostol, a medication initially created to prevent stomach ulcers, is quite difficult for governments to restrict.
Kristof’s article discusses developing nations in general, but I hope that instructions regarding the proper dosage and timing of the pill become available in Latin American nations where access to abortion is fiercely prohibited. Whereas women in the U.S. are already permitted to take the “medical abortion” pills (in which case women typically take mifepristone and then misoprostol a day or two later), I hope that such a medication could factor into the lives of women living in Latin American nations where abortion is also a divisive issue but where, according to RH Reality Check (), the procedure is a widespread reality:
The landscape is complex, to say the least. Across the region, legal abortion is highly restricted in most countries, completely banned in a handful (Chile, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua), and safe and legal with few restrictions in an even smaller handful (Cuba and Guyana). Despite this legal diversity, however, abortion is widely practiced throughout the region. According to the Guttmacher Institute, over 4 million women in Latin America have abortions every year, often at the hands of unskilled, unlicensed providers.
Given the fraught political climate in many of these nations, it seems that the abortion pill could help prevent thousands of deaths in the region. I am curious as to how widely available misoprostol is in Latin American nations, and how realistic it would be for women to obtain the pill. As of 2009, women in Latin America were reportedly using the pill frequently to induce early abortions, but medical professionals have called for information about the appropriate regimen for misoprostol usage.
As Kristof notes in his article, “As word spreads among women worldwide about what a few pills can do, it’s hard to see how politicians can stop this gynecological revolution.” I hope he is right. While misoprostol may not represent an easy answer to safe abortion in Latin America, it seems that this solution would be far easier and safer than others in the face of the criminalization of abortion.
By Nicole Catá, Policy Intern