A stomach turning article in the New York Times today reminds us that the fight for reproductive justice isn't just a legal one, but is also deeply cultural. Two new studies of Latina women, particularly Dominicans, have found widespread use of prescription ulcer medication to induce abortion. Side effects include excessive bleeding, shock, and even rupture of the uterus. Nevertheless, some pharmacists are willing to sell the drug without a prescription for about $30. In a Catholic, anti-choice culture, many teenagers and women find this painful, dangerous abortion method preferable to visiting a family planning clinic or doctor's office, even if they are insured.
It was 12 years ago, but the memory remains vivid: She was handed a packet of pills. They were small and white, $30 for 12. Ms. Dominguez, two or three months pregnant, went to a friend’s apartment and swallowed the pills one by one, washing them down with malta, a molasseslike extract sold in nearly every bodega in the neighborhood.
The cramps began several hours later, doubling Ms. Dominguez over, building and building until, eight and a half hours later, she locked herself in the bathroom and passed a lifeless fetus, which she flushed.
Affordability remains a factor here; with abortions costing upwards of $1,000 and uncovered by public insurance plans, many women simply cannot afford them. Another option that should be more available and affordable is RU-486, the "abortion pill," which also includes misoprostol, the active ingredient in the ulcer medication. Yet RU-486, administered by a doctor and taken in private, is safe and intended for this purpose. It still gives women the advantage, if necessary, of passing their abortions off as miscarriages to anti-choice partners, family, or friends.
Most disturbingly, the Times reports on two cases of immigrant women being imprisoned by American judges for the crime of inducing abortion with ulcer drugs. Desperation and lack of health insurance should not be criminalized. It's hard to believe that any judge would see women — not society and culture at large — as the problem here.
Update: It just came to my attention that The American Prospect's deputy editor, the estimable Ann Friedman, was all over this story two years ago when she worked at Mother Jones. Go Ann!
cross-posted at TAPPED