By: Jennifer Jimenez & Teresa Rodriguez
Worldwide 42 million abortions are estimated to take place annually, 22 million of these occurring safely and 20 million unsafely. Although there are newer, more effective and more widely available birth control methods, more than half of 6 million pregnancies are considered unplanned. Of these unplanned pregnancies, about half end in abortion.
One of the main determinants of the availability of safe abortions is the legality of the procedure. According to emedicinehealth.com: “Since the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal, hundreds of federal and state laws have been proposed or passed. Abortion is one of the most visible, controversial, and legally active areas in the field of medicine,”
Abortion can be done by various methods, being the herbal abortifacients the easiest one. The use of sharpened tools and physical trauma are the methods that affect more women. Contemporary medicine utilizes medications and surgical procedures to induce abortion which are known as the traditional methods.
Legal abortion is a safe procedure. Infection rates are less than one percent and fewer than 1 in 100,000 deaths occurs from first-trimester abortions. Abortion is safer for the mother than carrying a pregnancy to term. Medical and surgical abortions are both safe and effective when performed by trained practitioners.
Although legal abortion is safe there are some cases were physical consequences like breast, cervical, ovarian and liver cancer, complication when it comes to labor, or handicapped newborns in later pregnancies.
“Medical abortion is a term applied to an abortion brought about by medication taken to induce it. This can be accomplished with a variety of medications given either as a single pill or a series of pills. Medical abortion has a success rate that ranges from 75-95 percent, with about 2-4 percent of failed abortions requiring surgical abortion and about 5-10% of incomplete abortions (not all tissue is expelled and it must be taken out by surgery), depending on the stage of gestation and the medical products used,” states emedicinehealth.com.
The Elliot Institute informs that temporary feelings of relief are frequently followed by a period psychiatrists identify as emotional “paralysis,” or post-abortion “numbness.” Like shell-shocked soldiers, these aborted women are unable to express or even feel their own emotions. Their focus is primarily on having survived the ordeal, and they are at least temporarily out of touch with their feelings.
Studies within the first few weeks after the abortion have found that between 40 and 60 percent of women questioned report negative reactions. Within 8 weeks after their abortions, 55 percent expressed guilt, 44 percent complained of nervous disorders, 36 percent had experienced sleep disturbances, 31 percent had regrets about their decision, and 11percent had been prescribed psychotropic medicine by their family doctor.
In one study of 500 aborted women, researchers found that 50 percent expressed negative feelings, and up to 10 percent were classified as having developed “serious psychiatric complications.”
30 to 50 percent of aborted women report experiencing sexual dysfunctions, of both short and long duration, beginning immediately after their abortions. These problems may include one or more of the following: loss of pleasure from intercourse, increased pain, an aversion to sex and/or males in general, or the development of a promiscuous life-style.
Two students sharing difference of opinion about abortion opened up to tell their stories. Their real names will remain anonymous to protect their privacy as they asked. Maria was 21 years old when she found out she was pregnant. She says: “I believe abortion is a personal decision that every woman has a right to make. It all depends on the situation you come across. In my case I was irresponsible and made wrong decisions which led to an unwanted pregnancy. It was a really hard choice to make, but given the fact that I did not know who was the father and that I had just got the news I had been accepted in the Army Reserve and was leaving in a month.”
Maria did not go to a medical clinic to have her abortion done, instead she took some natural pills that made her really sick and had to go to her Gynecologist to check her. In her appointment she found out part of the fetus was still attached to her uterus. “I don’t have regrets about the decision I took because I was not ready to have a baby. I was still immature and did not know how to take care of my own thing to be taking care of another life. The procedure was very confidential no one knew what I was there for and the nurses and medical personnel were very attentive and helpful.”
On the other hand Gabriela was in third year of college when she found out she was pregnant. “It never crossed my mind to have an abortion. I do believe that it is a decision every woman has to make for herself because you never know what is she going through.” she said. Gabriela was very in love with her boyfriend and they had planned to get married in 2 years but instead moved the wedding date up. I wanted to keep my baby very much and even though I had so many complications because of my pregnancy I will never regret having my baby boy, he is now 3 years old and very healthy.” she added.
In 2001, 13,800 legal abortions were performed in 7 clinics and it is estimated a total of 15,600 abortions done in Puerto Rico. “When we compare ourselves with other countries, Puerto Rico has a low rate when it comes to abortion,” said Dr. Cholette. “There are two main factors that may account for the low abortion rate in Puerto Rico. First, there is a high rate of contraceptive use. Second, we have found a number of barriers that may be preventing women from gaining access to abortion services,”
A recent survey (PR Reproductive Health Survey, 1995-1996) found that 46 percent of women aged 15 to 49 had been sterilized. Next most popular were oral contraceptives, used by 10 percent. The rate of nonuse of contraception was 22 percent, similar to United States, although 10 percent used traditional methods of rhythm and withdrawal.
First barrier is the cost of an abortion. Charges for a first-trimester abortion in Puerto Rico range from $200 to $325, which is a significant amount of money for a low-income woman. Another barrier is the relative scarcity of abortion facilities.
The number of clinics has declined by almost half since a survey conducted 10 years ago. All the abortion clinics in Puerto Rico are located in San Juan metropolitan area, so the distance from a provider creates a travel burden for women in other parts of the island. Fifty-one percent of the women surveyed live outside the San Juan metropolitan area, and many of these women had to travel a considerable distance to reach an abortion clinic.
As a result of these barriers, many women Puerto Ricans attempt to perform abortions on themselves. 17 percent of the women having abortions said they had taken pills to try to end the pregnancy before coming to the clinic. The most frequent reason given by women for using pills is to save money.
Nowadays, women Puerto Ricans have a number of barriers when it comes to abortion services. Insurance rarely covers abortion, although most women have insurance for other health care. In most other countries, private insurance or national insurance plans cover abortion services. Even in the United States, some 15 percent of abortions are paid for by Medicaid, the health insurance program for low-income women.