In this interview, Venezuela's Network for Safe Abortion discusses the impact of the economic crisis on women's right to choose as well as the statistics behind its growing abortion helpline.
What is the Information Network for Safe Abortion?
For the past five years, we women who form part of the Information Network for Safe Abortion offer a free telephone line for women who wish to end their pregnancies and need information about the safest way to do so without medical attention and with a low percentage of risk.
What mobilizes us is care for the life of the majority. We have decided to do our part to care for the life of those who are the same as us and suffer the same problems, the same accidents, and are weighed down by the same dangers.
It’s important to point out that in Venezuela abortion is a regular practice despite the law’s punitive character. Women have abortions every day, whether we like it or not, or whether we agree or not. This causes many women to place their health in danger by using improvised or unsanitary methods. On top of this is the social pressure that stigmatizes women and leads to isolation and loneliness. We have all taken on the responsibility to disseminate the correct information so that the abortion takes place in the safest way possible.
We don’t work in an improvised way. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Latin American Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FLASOG) have recognized that abortion with pills (Misprostol) is the best method to terminate a pregnancy at home. The important part for us is that the dissemination of this information saves women’s lives on a daily basis. It’s very important to understand that access to this information does not promote abortions: women don’t stop having abortions just because they don’t have sufficient information, but do so anyway, putting at risk their health.
How has the [current] economic and political situation affected the practice of abortion?
Before 2014, we received an average of 5 to 10 calls a day. During 2015, we received 80 to 100…it’s an increase of 1,233%… We are helping on average of 315 women daily. This has led us to add three new phone numbers in order to meet the demand for information. The women that need information about how to carry out a safe abortion with pills can call the Safe Abortion Information Line at 0426-1169496, 0414-4916747 and 0412-9332364.
The great majority of the women who call us say that they cannot obtain any type of anti-contraceptive. Before 2014, the majority would tell us that they used pills, but now they can’t be obtained or only at prices that are inaccessible for the vast majority of the working population. The siege by the pharmaceutical industry as a strategy to support the economic war as well as the difficulties we have had in government and as popular power to overcome the situation have increased the number of unplanned pregnancies.
On the other hand, the prohibition of abortion has made speculation on the price of medications used for suspending pregnancy much more profitable. Before 2014, access to Misoprostol was already pretty limited, but now it’s not available in any pharmacies, because the pharmaceutical mafias and the bachaqueros make more money selling it on the black market at 50 times the price. A women who decides to have an abortion before the 12th week of gestation using pills needs 12 pills on the black market that can cost between 4 and 10 thousand bolívares each.
In summary, one could say that the economic war has dramatically affected the right to decide about our bodies and our lives?
Sexual and reproductive health is a human right. It’s about people’s right to decide about their body, sexuality, and reproductive autonomy in order to have a full affective life as well as an active and protagonist participation in the social, cultural, and political spaces of society.
In our constitution, sexual and reproductive rights are recognized in article 76, which establishes the recognition of the principles of equality and non-discrimination, including the possibility to make free, responsible, agreeable, and informed decisions about one’s sexuality as well as reproductive functions: deciding the number of children to have, when to have them, and the possibility of having free access to the adequate, quality services that facilitate the exercise of these rights.
It’s important to remember that according to these sexual and reproductive rights, women have the right to a long life and not solely as child-bearers that have to be attended during their fertile phase. Additionally, in our country, we have the First National Plan for the Protection of Sexual and Reproductive Rights of Women 2014-2019 guaranteeing that we women can exercise autonomy over our bodies and take decisions free of coercion, that we can separate our sexuality from reproduction; that we can choose to have children or not to have them; that we can demand sufficient and good quality services to attend to our sexual and reproductive needs from the state.
The economic war affects precisely the framework that makes possible the enjoyment of all of these rights and attempts to contradict the governmental praxis oriented to the realization [of these rights]. As a result, all of the forms of self-care are left broken apart… above all for the popular classes…
Today we know that the service we provide is more necessary than when we started.
Are abortion and sexual and reproductive health class issues?
Regarding abortion it’s difficult to know scientifically because of the situation of illegality and the fact that it is taboo which make it difficult to collect information, which in our society occasions a general underestimation of the magnitude and incidence of induced abortions. We compile data through our telephone service, which has allowed us to build alternative statistics. In this way, we can get an approximate idea of the situation of abortion in Venezuela.
We can tell you that 45% of the women who use our phone line are economically dependent on their spouse or on their family. 37% makes around minimum wage. Of the remaining 63%, only a very low proportion reaches two minimum wages. This suggests that the users [of our service] are from the lower classes, but this does not mean that upper class women do not have abortions, but rather that they simply have the resources to do it not only surgically in clandestine clinics, but also in secret.
In order to understand the current situation of Venezuelan women, you have to take into account that an abortion carried out in a clinic costs between 100 and 200 thousand bolívares and you already know the price of the pills. Class inequalities are more than a conditioning factor in terms of whether women have abortions or not, and also seem to condition the form in which it (the abortion) is undertaken. From this point of view, it’s a question of availability of resources and information. We try to socialize this information so that women can take a responsible decision with fewer possible risks.
From the point of view of sexual and reproductive health, which is the broadest perspective, something similar happens. We have received timely donations of anti-contraceptives and we are organizing health days to distribute them as well as spark debate about sexual health and access to safe abortion.
Why is it important to be a pro-abortion activist?
Our country is one of the few that penalizes in an absolute manner the right of women to decide if they want to be mothers or not. When social revolutions occur that disrupt the world capitalist and patriarchal order, they typically defend this historic popular women’s struggle, as was done in the Soviet Union in 1920, in the Spanish Republic in 1937 or in our sister Cuba in 1965. In these three cases cited, it was guaranteed that the women who needed abortions could have them legally and at no cost. In our country, sadly the debate on this issue is continually postponed, which in some cases causes obligatory maternities and in others health complications or deaths in women that decide to terminate their pregnancies clandestinely. These deaths are avoidable. The only Millennium Goal that the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has not been able to meet is the reduction of maternal mortality. Giving birth has much more risks and complications than an abortion safely executed before the 12th week, and for this reason, pregnancy and giving birth cannot be obligatory. Moreover, this evidences a situation of inequality because men are not obligated to become fathers, let alone risk their lives for it. It’s an inadmissible social injustice.
On the other hand, legally or illegally, women have abortions all the same. We help each other among ourselves with the tools that we have. For this reason, we decided to launch the Safe Abortion Line, so that women who decide to have abortions, do it in a safe way.
There are investigations endorsed by the WHO about the use of Misoprostol to undergo safe abortions at home before the 12th week with a very low risk of complications. Venezuelan women have the constitutional right to be informed, and we believe in free access to scientific information that allows us to take care of our sexual and reproductive health.
Abortion in Venezuela in figures:
· 45% of women that use the Information Network for Safe Abortion depend economically on their spouse or on their family. 37% makes around minimum wage. Of the remaining 63%, only a very small percentage reaches two minimum wages.
· 38% are part of the labor market, 37% are dedicated exclusively to their studies, and 9% are unemployed.
· 40% of the women who call are mothers.
· 52% of the women who have solicited information from the phone line are between 21 and 30 years old, followed by a proportion of 28% who are women under 21, 17% between 31 and 40, and 3% above 40.
· 64% of the users have finished their secondary education, 16% have university education, 9% have incomplete secondary education, 7% have a TSU, and 6% have only primary education.
· 70% report that they are in a stable relationship and the remaining 30% indicate not being in a relationship with a partner.
· 82% report not having prior experience with an abortion.
· 33% of the women who call the phone line say that their principal reason for making the decision to abort is economic difficulties. Another 33% say that their principal reason is that it’s an unplanned pregnancy. The rest say that they are doing it because the pregnancy is the product of a rape, or because the foetus suffers deformities, or because the health of the mother is in grave risk.
· 70,000 women die each day worldwide due to complications resulting from unsafe abortions, which amounts to approximately 13% of the 600,000 maternal deaths that occur annually. In Venezuela, this figure amounts to approximately one death per week.
Translated by Venezuelanalysis