Latin America: Anti-Abortion Laws Drive Women to Use Ulcer Drug

Latin American women are terminating unwanted pregnancies by taking the cheap ulcer medication Cytotec, the Associated Press reported. Cytotec, generically known as misoprostol, is often taken in conjunction with RU-486, also known as mifepristone. However, in Latin America where abortion is illegal (except in Cuba and Puerto Rico), mifepristone is banned and Cytotec–easy to obtain without prescription–is taken alone. The cost of each pill is under $1, and only 8 to 16 pills are needed to terminate pregnancy. Dr. Philip D. Darney, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California told the AP Cytotec is “pretty safe and effective” and “far safer than illegal or unskilled surgical abortions,” which typically cost $400 to $1000. Still, anti-abortion groups are fighting to get Cytotec, as commonly available in some Latin American cities as aspirin or cold medicine, off the market.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), each year 6,000 of the four million women obtaining illegal surgical abortions die. Although contraceptives are available, many women cannot afford them, and men are averse to using condoms. Cytotec offers women a choice. “It is simply irresponsible that the government prohibits abortion without giving out information,” Digna, a mother of two who took Cytotec two years ago, told the AP. “They know it happens daily, so they’d better just deal with it and inform women.”

Typically, mifepristone is used in conjunction with Cytotec for most medical abortions. Those drugs used together have an efficacy rate of over 95 percent. Cytotec used alone has a slightly lower efficacy rate; however, side effects are greater. In addition, if women are forced to go outside normal safe channels to obtain abortions, complications can be higher overall because there is no medical oversight.

LEARN MORE Click here to read women’s narratives about barriers or successes in accessing reproductive health and family planning services.


Associated Press 3/19/03; Feminist Majority Foundation

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