Around the world a variety of unsafe methods are still used to end unwanted pregnancies in countries where it is either illegal or inaccessible. The Alan Guttmacher Institute has documented the incidence of unsafe abortion worldwide and names some common methods including:
• Drinking turpentine, bleach or tea made with livestock manure
• Inserting herbal preparations into the vagina or cervix
• Placing foreign bodies, such as a stick, coat hanger or chicken bone, into the uterus
• Jumping from the top of stairs or a roof
All of these methods carry a high risk of poisoning the woman (ingested preparations) or perforating her uterus (surgical methods) which can lead to infection or heavy bleeding and death, or serious injury (self-inflicted violence – jumping or enduring beating).
The World Health Organisation estimates that 70,000 women a year die as a direct result of unsafe abortion, making it a significant contributory factor to maternal mortality worldwide.
It is expected that rates of injury and death from unsafe abortion will begin to decrease with the increasing availability of abortion medication Mifepristone and Misoprostol. These medicines are used in legal abortion services around the world, but are also increasingly available to women in countries where abortion is illegal via the internet or – in the case of Misoprostol – over the counter in some countries where it is sold to treat stomach ulcers, its original intended use.
However, we know that there are many unscrupulous people willing to sell fake medicines or sell them in the wrong dosage to vulnerable and desperate women. The only website known to EFC which provides medical consultation and provides safe doses of medication to women is Women on Web which will not sell medication to women in countries where it is safely and legally available.
Women in countries where abortion is not yet legal need to be aware that they may be committing a crime if they buy abortion medication. For example, customs officers in Ireland are known, regularly, to seize parcels containing abortion medication.
So, while medication exists that can be safely used by women in their own homes, legal barriers to accessing this medication – and serious consequences for those caught – remain an obstacle to safe abortion in countries with restrictive laws.
In some countries where abortion is legal, large numbers of women still undertake risky unsafe abortions because access is difficult for poorer women or those in remote rural areas. In fact a poor woman in India is much more likely to risk of dying from unsafe abortion than a rich woman in Ireland who can travel to mainland UK for a safe abortion.