Today, a fascinating report from the New York Times describes a an unspoken tradition among Dominican women to perform their own 'abortion' using pills, herbal teas and other unconventional methods due to a wider cultural view of shame surrounding abortion, the use of condoms and denial about unplanned pregnancy.
A survey conducted by Planned Parenthood of 1200 Latinas in New York, San Francisco and Boston found "reports of women mixing malted beverages with aspirin, salt or nutmeg; throwing themselves down stairs or having people punch them in the stomach; and drinking teas of avocado leaf, pine wood, oak bark and mamon fruit peel." More recently, however, a number of Dominican women have been using misoprostol, an prescription drug that is approved for reducing gastric ulcers but induces miscarriage. Women often obtain the pills at pharmacies that are known to 'bend the rules' or from overseas. This is seen as the best available option to women who have no insurance, are not living in the country lawfully or who do not want to deal with the shame of pregnancy.
Women's health works, however, are concerned that women are not using these methods appropriately and might be risking their own health if using the traditional and over-the-counter methods incorrectly. Given the US abortion laws, some women are even being prosecuted for knowingly attempting to end their pregnancies. According to the NYT:
"In 2007 in Massachusetts, an 18-year-old Dominican immigrant named Amber Abreu took misoprostol in her 25th week of pregnancy and gave birth to a 1-pound baby girl who died four days later; a judge sentenced her in June to probation and ordered her into therapy. In South Carolina in February, a Mexican migrant farm worker, Gabriela Flores, pleaded guilty to illegally performing an abortion and was sentenced to 90 days in jail for taking misoprostol while four months pregnant in 2004..."
There seems to be widespread criticism of women who self-abort, mainly surrounding the idea that in causing themselves to 'miscarry' they turn abortion into a 'natural' process. I think we should be more concerned with helping women who can't afford to have an abortion with the appropriate tools to terminate a pregnancy rather than worrying about denial or what word is being used to describe such an experience. 'Miscarriage' or 'abortion', women should not have to continue with an unwanted pregnancy. In the case of these Dominican women, I think the consequences of having an unwanted child are more significant than the cost of having an abortion or 'miscarriage', etc.*
*This post is not intended to spark a heated debate as to the ethics of abortion. This is just my view and this is an old debate. Berating women who choose to have abortions is not productive and undermines the point of this post.