For women living in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws (i.e. most of Latin America), obtaining a necessary termination could be unfeasible, or worse, unsafe. But a nonprofit clinic in Peru has developed a “harm-reduction model” that researchers believe can make the procedure safe and accessible to those who need it most, the Washington Post reports.
According to a new study in PLOS ONE by Ibis Reproductive Health, women who take a medication called misoprostol, which is available in pharmacies across the country to address other health issues including gastric ulcers, can successfully and safely end a pregnancy.
Starting in 2011, and then again from January 2012 to March 2013, the clinic began offering instructions over the phone on how to use misoprostol to terminate a pregnancy and also provided guidance on at-home post-abortion care. Of 220 Peruvian women from Lima and Chimbote who purchased the pill at pharmacies and called the clinic for assistance, 89 percent were able to terminate pregnancies with no issues arising during the process. Only two people reported a major complication, both of which were infections.
According to Sarah Baum, a researcher at Ibis Reproductive Health, the study’s findings only “add to the building body of evidence that women can safely and effectively have an abortion on their own when they have access to accurate, evidence-based information about how to use pills.”
In Latin America, where misoprostol is often available with or without a prescription, this can be a game-changer for those in need of an abortion but are unable to obtain the procedure because of restrictive laws, high costs, or far distances to city clinics. It also has the possibility of saving lives.
As history shows, making abortion illegal does not stop them from occurring. Instead, women are forced to have clandestine abortions that threaten their lives. In Peru, where the procedure is only available if there is a risk to the woman’s health or life, 350,000 illegal and “back-alley” abortions are performed each year. About 65,000 of these women are hospitalized due to complications.
“Women are not able to get a legal abortion in the clinic, but if they know, say, that they’re interested in having an abortion, they can speak with a counselor who can provide them evidence-based information about how to use the abortion pills on their own,” Baum told wbur 90.9.
In addition to the study, the World Health Organization has also recommended misoprostol for safe abortions.