I had an illegal, clandestine and expensive ‘safe’ abortion. I could be prosecuted and jailed, but it’s unlikely to happen. It’s been 3 years.
I live in a country where abortion is only legal in cases where the life of the mother is in danger or if a mentally disabled woman is raped. My reality mirrors those of thousands, if not millions, of women around the globe who cannot access a legal, safe abortion. But unlike the great majority of those women, I could access a ‘safe’ abortion for the right price.
I was 22 and in a relationship with a 26-year-old foreigner (let’s call him Will) who was doing a semester abroad in my country as part of his master’s degree programme. We had been dating for 3 months and had no plans of having a long-term relationship: I was moving to Europe in a few months in order to study my master’s at a top university and he was going back to Canada. I decided to present the news in a concise and clear way so I blurted out ‘I’m pregnant and I want an abortion’ over dinner at his place one night. He just looked me square in the eyes for a while and asked if I was certain. I said ‘Yes, and that since abortion is illegal in this country we should tell no one and do it as soon as possible.’
I was only 4 weeks into the pregnancy so it was relatively easy. I called a mobile number that a local women’s rights NGO had given me. The call was answered by a doctor who insisted we had to talk face to face the moment I mentioned I needed an abortion. She absolutely refused to confirm over the phone that she had practised the procedure before — I can understand her caution, she could be stripped of her licence and jailed. After a quick, chipped discussion I agreed to go to her office for a ‘routine check-up.’
The appointment was in one of the most expensive private practice buildings in the city, the kind of place where you pay for privacy, confidentiality and discretion. Will decided to come along but I told him to wait outside until I texted him. I wanted to ask for the price before he arrived because people tend to overcharge foreigners.
As soon as I sat down in her office she asked me to put my bag in a box and to turn my phone off. So I called Will and told him to come up in 10 minutes. I turned my phone off, stated the facts, and asked for the price. She said that the usual price for what I needed was US$ 1000 (more than 3 times the national minimum wage). She said it would be simple: because of the early stage I would only need some pills. ‘Why $1000 for pills?’ Because I would spend two days in a private clinic being monitored, given pain meds and making sure that the remains were disposed of and finally given a final check-up. She said I didn’t have to worry because there would be no paper trail and she would not open a file. In addition, the payment had to be made in the form of a donation to that clinic.
Right then, Will arrived, and after I explained the procedure to him, she repeated the cost and the specifications. She said that Will could stay with me the whole time, the rooms were all private and had a futon too. If he didn´t, someone else had to stay with me, it was mandatory. I said I just wanted the pills. She told us she didn’t do that, that you never knew if there could be abnormal bleeding, or if a part of the foetus could be stuck inside, or if the remains were properly disposed of. It sort of made sense: a few months back a woman was convicted because she went to the hospital after abnormal bleeding caused by abortion pills, and the person that provided her with the pills was also prosecuted.
It turned out that the private clinic was in a small town, a couple of hours from the city. I told my family and friends that we would be taking a weekend break outside the city. The procedure went smoothly; I took the pills as soon as I got there, and spent the next 48 hours under observation. I could tell I was not the only woman in the clinic who was getting an abortion. I saw a teenager with her mother, and another young woman with a couple of friends. But we had another thing in common, it was obvious from the cars, the clothes and our bubblegum accents: we all came from upper income backgrounds.
That’s the reality of restricted or illegal abortion countries. It’s not true that it doesn’t happen, it’s only that abortion is extremely expensive. US$ 1000 may not seem much for some, but it’s twice an average family’s income in my country and more than three times the minimum wage. To say that abortion doesn’t happen in countries where it is banned would be a lie: it’s a privilege for the wealthy and a jail/death sentence for the poor.
Abortion should NEVER be a privilege, it should be a basic right. Women shouldn’t have to die in a dark, unhygienic operating room, be prosecuted for taking abortion pills, or carry to term unwanted pregnancies. All women should have EQUAL rights. All women must have access to a safe abortion.