Giving Chilean Women Bad Advice on Chemical Abortions

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

The nation of Chile really sticks in the craw of international abortion advocates.  They have tried to argue for years that abortion limits lead to higher maternal mortality rates. But the example of Chile, with legal protections of the unborn since 1989 and continuing declines in maternal mortality rates, conclusively disproves that pro-abortion talking point. (See www.nationalrighttolifenews.org/news/2012/05/chilean-study-shows-better-health-care-other-factors-reduce-maternal-mortality-not-legal-abortion.)

So what do they do? At first, they tried to argue that there were really a lot more women dying from abortions in Chile than government statistics were  reporting.  That claim doesn’t hold up to scrutiny (see the link above). But then, they began to push to set up a hotline to tell women how to use a commonly available drug to abort their babies. 

That this will certainly put more women’s lives at risk is ignored or even denied. Bringing abortion to the women of Chile is all that seems to matter.

Let’s discuss “The Chilean Safe Abortion Hotline: Assisting Women With Illegal, But Safe, Misoprostol Abortion,” which appeared at  RHRealityCheck.org  on October 18. (Misoprostol is  a widely available anti-ulcer drug.) The author, Emily Anne, shares her experience as one of the operators for the hotline passing along helpful information on how to use of misoprostol in such a way as to cause an abortion.

The abortion hotline is open four hours a day, 365 days a year, and staffed by volunteers like Ms. Anne. The author says that “Women call from all over Chile, and they are offered information on the correct dosage and administration of misoprostol, its contraindications and side effects, as well as information on abortion law and legal rights.”  Anne says that since the launch of the hotline in 2009, they have received more than 10,000 calls, up to 15 a day.

There are similar hotlines in Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela, many working with organizations such as “Women on Waves,” the group that launched the so-called “Abortion Ship” in 2001, aiming to bring abortion to pro-life countries like Ireland, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Ecuador, and most recently, Morocco.   While the abortion ship fortunately generated more publicity than it did business (it is unclear whether any abortions were ever actually performed on the boat), it did focus attention on the abortion laws in these countries and promoted the cause of chemical abortions. 

It was after being shut out of the ports of many of these countries that Woman on Waves began promoting many of these chemical abortion hotlines.  Anne’s account gives us more details about how these hotlines work and the sorts of information (and misinformation) that is shared with these vulnerable women.

Ms. Anne notes that misoprostol is used in the United States in combination with the abortifacient RU-486 [finishing the abortion by violently expelling child starved to death by RU-486]. But there are groups such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Ipas, and the International Consortium for Medical Abortion that are promoting or endorsing the use of misoprostol alone around the world. 

The reasons are obvious. Though Ms. Anne says that it is sold on the black market for about $250 for a 12-pill dose, the retail cost of misoprostol is usually quite cheap, going for just a couple of dollars a pill, at most.  And because its primary approved use is for addressing ulcers, it is widely available around the globe, unlike RU486, which as an explicit abortifacient, is banned in many countries.

Other than the reference to the cost of the pills on the black market, Ms. Anne is vague about how it is that women get the misoprostol.  A representative of Ipas, one of the groups mentioned in the article, in a Spring 2008 story from A: The Abortion Magazine, outlined a strategy used in Uruguay in which a woman got her information on the abortion procedure from one doctor and then a prescription for the drug from another, supposedly for a different application.

Once they have the pills, Ms. Anne says, “women are able to mimic clinical procedures,” taking the pills and inducing the abortions in their own homes.  She says that “no technical skills are needed.” If there is a problem, a woman can go to her local emergency room, where the doctor “doesn’t need to know she used misoprostol, because the treatment for complications is identical to the treatment for miscarriage.”

Repeatedly, she touts the safety of misoprostol abortions, saying that they are “inherently safer than illegal surgical abortion, because there are fewer things that can go wrong.” She says that because no foreign objects are inserted in the vagina, there is very little chance of infection, and she calls problematic bleeding “uncommon.”

These assurances are not justified.  On the same day that Anne’s piece on the Chilean abortion hotline appeared, another article, from Inter Press Service (IPS), reporting on complaints by women’s groups that a law legalizing abortions there didn’t go far enough. Ironically it mentioned at the end that two women, ages 28 and 32, had “died at public hospitals as a result of complications caused by medical abortion brought on by misoprostol”! (IPS, “Women’s Groups Say Uruguay’s New Abortion Law Falls Short,” 10/18/12).

Chemical abortions do not introduce the same risks as surgical abortion, but come with risks of their own.  Several women using the RU-486/misoprostol combination in the U.S. have contracted rare infections and died.   Though some attribute this to the vaginal use of misoprostol (something Anne noticeably does not recommend), there is also some concern expressed in the medical literature that either or both of these drugs might suppress a woman’s immune system, leaving her more prone to infection.

Women using chemicals to abort have also bled to death. While people associate bleeding with surgery, it is not clear whether women are informed that the blood lost from a chemical abortion may exceed that of a surgical abortion.

One of the biggest issues is that the chemical method does not always work.   A 2005 journal article looked at seven different regimens, only one reaching 80% (Blanchard, et al, “Misoprostol Alone…” Contraception, Vol. 72, pp 91-97).  Women whose chemical abortions fail often end up undergoing surgery anyway.

Ms. Anne mentions that the use of misoprostol for “self-abortion” was first documented in Brazil in 1986.  However she fails to mention that different medical journal reports subsequently catalogued a rash of births of children in Brazil with webbed or missing fingers and toes, clubbed feet, and partial facial paralysis to women who were exposed misoprostol during pregnancy, presumably for attempted abortions.  Maimed, but not killed.

Anne, unintentionally, undercuts the whole argument that abortions need to be legalized to protect women’s health.  She admits that Chile has a low maternal mortality rate, but tries to argue this is explained by such factors as government subsidized birth control, good post-abortion care, and “access to safer illegal abortions using misoprostol.” She says “women still need abortions” and looks forward to the day when women in Chile “will have access to affordable, legal abortion offered by a trained practitioner.”

She says, “until then?  We’ll be here.  Give us a call.”

Statistics indicate that both women and their unborn children are safer in Chile without abortion, safer than they are in much of the western world where abortion is legal and often subsidized. What Ms. Anne and her fellow operators at these abortion hotlines are offering is not a better life, but more death.