Saturday, May 15

Venezuelan women forced to risk online pill market amid abortion ban | Global development

Sofia was 20 years old and coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship when she found out she was pregnant.

Her ex-boyfriend called her a “whore” for having conceived and claimed that he was not the father. Asking Sofia’s conservative family for help was not an option, as they had long warned that they would disown her if she ever got pregnant.

Alone, fearful and scared of raising a baby alone in a devastated country like Venezuela, she decided to terminate the pregnancy.

He knew that Venezuela has one of the most restrictive abortion policies in the region, so the first thing he did was call the largest pro-abortion organization in the country for advice.

“I told them I needed help and all they did was ask personal questions about my financial situation and where I lived, studied and worked,” said Sofía.

When she called another reproductive health NGO, their response was to congratulate her on her pregnancy.

So Sofia started asking her friends who had previously had abortions and discovered that the solution was closer than she thought: online.

Platforms like Facebook Market and MercadoLibre, the leading e-commerce business in Latin America, are flooded with informal vendors selling birth control pills and misoprostol, the drug used for medical abortions. These products are also promoted on Instagram and Twitter.

But social networks are also the perfect space for scammers who pose as doctors, nurses or pharmacists and profit from the despair and ignorance of their customers.

“A man who claimed to be a doctor got mad at me because I ‘doubted his professionalism,’” Sofía said. “I paid $ 200 for six pills but they turned out to be fake. I had no money left to buy more pills. “

After borrowing money, he found another provider, Alberto, whose profile had been high for over two years with rave reviews. In addition to misoprostol, his status updates were full of drug and gun deals.

Venezuela has a black market for abortion pills, but it can be a risky business for customers.

Venezuela has a black market for abortion pills, but it can be a risky business for customers. Photograph: Shaul Schwarz / Getty Images

He showed his satisfied customer testimonials, but also warned him that he could go to jail for what he was about to do. Sofía waited five days for a shipment from Colombia to arrive. Alberto delivered the pills in broad daylight, in the middle of a public square. They chatted for about 15 minutes and he tried to sell her more pills than she needed.

“For him, this is just a business,” he said.

Abortion in Venezuela is illegal in almost all circumstances. The 1926 law prohibiting the procedure was modified only once, with a 2006 reform allowing an abortion if the woman’s life is in danger. (The Penal Code it still contains a clause that reduces the penalty “if the author of the abortion commits it to save the honor of his mother, wife or children”.)

The harsh rules place socialist Venezuela at the far end of other Latin American countries like Argentina, where abortion was recently legalized up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

Since selling drugs online without authorization is illegal, online dealers have found ways to stay in the shadows. Using code words related to the automobile, they sell a variety of drugs with prices ranging from $ 10 to $ 100 per pill.

“This has been going on for at least three or four years,” said a member of a Venezuelan pro-abortion NGO who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. “Most of the vendors are drug dealers or health workers who take them from hospitals.”

The challenges for women seeking an abortion are not just legal. Despite having the largest oil reserves in the world, Venezuela is mired in an economic crisis. Shortages of basic food, cash and medicine are endemic.

A man walks past a sign that says

A man walks past a sign that says “Motherhood will be desired or it will not be.” Legal abortion ‘in Caracas, in January. Photograph: Federico Parra / AFP / Getty Images

Among those shortages are common contraceptive methods, which are inaccessible to nearly 90% of the population, according to a 2019 report. There is little or no access to sex education, and Venezuela also has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in Latin America, after Ecuador and Honduras.

Authorities have used the threat of a criminal conviction to dissuade women from attempting to terminate a pregnancy, but few prosecutions were known until last year.

That changed in October when an activist in the state of Mérida went stopped and prosecuted for helping a minor rape victim get an abortion. Vannesa Rosales was detained for more than three months before being released for house arrest in January. Her lawyer says she will likely be charged with inducing an abortion and conspiring to commit a crime for her role in helping the girl terminate the pregnancy.

The girl’s mother was also detained, although she was later released. The alleged rapist has been prosecuted but is still at large.

Since Rosales’s arrest, several NGOs have stopped offering their advice on abortion or have disappeared altogether. Four other feminist organizations whose work is not related to reproductive rights have also received threats to stop their work, leaving people without information resources on how to proceed safely or where to get the right pills.

“Being able to choose about our health, our life and our body is a human right that is being attacked in Venezuela, either because there is no access to it, or because of the punishment and discrimination that comes with persecuting it,” said Vivian Díaz. , manager of Amnesty International Venezuela.

Names have been changed

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