This is a guest post by an anonymous woman. She is affiliated with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). Any questions regarding this post or IPPF’s work can be directed to the contact at the end of this post.
Upon graduating from university in 2006, I caught the travel bug. My passion for women’s rights led me to Chile, where I sought out volunteer opportunities. I ended up working for an organisation called Fondo Alquimia, a network of women’s rights groups campaigning for equal access to emergency contraception across the country.
Having grown up in the UK, where we take for granted that safe abortion is legal and accessible for all women, it hadn’t occurred to me just how difficult it could be for women facing unplanned pregnancies in a country as extreme as Chile, where abortion is entirely illegal even in cases of rape and severe foetal abnormality. I hadn’t occurred to me, that is, until I faced the situation myself.
I wasn’t altogether surprised to find out that I was pregnant. At first, when I discovered I was pregnant, I was genuinely delighted. I had reached an age at which I began to think about becoming a mother. Unlike Valeria, in the IPPF film, I wasn’t a teenager anymore, and I thought I might be able to handle it. On the other hand, I didn’t have a boyfriend, a steady income or a family around to support me.
I had tried to take precautions. We’d used a condom, but it burst during sex. I’d also tried to access contraceptive pills, which are supposed to be available without prescription in Chile through pharmacies. However, I was refused on several occasions – access for young women like me is left to the whim of pharmacists and local politicians. Ultimately, I gave up trying to access it, like many of my friends there did; only those in long-term relationships made the extra effort and financial investment to get prescription oral contraception.
Likewise, emergency contraception is extremely difficult to access in Chile. Unlike oral contraception, it could only be procured with a prescription and where the local politicians permitted its distribution. Since I left Chile, however, women’s access has been restricted even further. In 2008, the Chilean Constitutional Court banned the distribution of emergency contraception in public health facilities, the places where most people access health care.
As a liberated, European woman, all of this came as quite a shock to me. There I was, without access to measures to prevent pregnancy and without access to safe, legal abortion services.
The underlying message of all of these restrictive laws and regulations is, of course, that young people, women (especially young women) cannot make decisions about their own lives, health and bodies. Time after time, I felt judged for trying to avoid pregnancy, a responsibility that I knew I wasn’t ready or willing to take on. Surely I was being responsible, right? I knew what I wanted for my life, but I was being prevented from getting it.
I spent time weighing my options, and it quickly became apparent that a termination was what I wanted. But, in Chile the decision to have a termination is not a final decision in itself. Questions flooded through my head: where can I go? Do I need to go to home to the UK to do this? Do I have to risk my health to do it here? Who talks about these things?
I spoke covertly to Chilean friends, who told me stories of illegal abortions their friends had had and their worries about backlash from parents, boyfriends or society, which had far outweighed the fears for their health. Others spoke of illegal abortions performed safely in hospitals, if the price was right. Some told me that the drugs for medical abortion were available illegally online, for around £50/$70 – a fortune for most Chilean young women.
Then I came across the website Women on Web, which provides information and the necessary drugs for an early medical abortion to women in countries where abortion is restricted. The site was easy to find with a quick internet search and the interaction is all online and immediate. I had an online consultation; I gave my details, printed my instructions and waited for the medication to arrive by post. I was asked to pay a €70 donation, to keep the organisation running. It was a lot more to me then than it is now, but I was happy to pay it to keep the service available to those less well off.
Not all women in my position in Chile would have been as fortunate as I was to access safe abortion in the way that I did. Between 120,000 and 160,000 women in Chile opt for unsafe abortions every year; they, like women all over the world, are faced with impossible situations every day in relation to their reproductive lives. Given the Latin American region has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, it is not surprising that the latest WHO estimates show the unsafe abortion rate in Latin America (31 unsafe abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44) is greater than in any other region, including Africa.
During my time in Chile, I met many women who were denied abortion even thought they knew their foetuses had several abnormalities and once born would not survive outside the womb. I met women survivors of rape and women whose health conditions made it dangerous for them to continue their pregnancies; they were all denied access to abortion and the right to make their own decision. Had those same women been born in the UK, their range of choices would have been much greater and their decisions would’ve been their own to make.
There are numerous organisations in Chile and all over Latin American advocating tirelessly for equal access to contraception and safe, legal abortion services for all women. My message is that of women across the world who are denied their right to access contraception and abortion services: Where I am born or live in the world should not affect the fact that I am a woman with the right to decide.
If you have any question about IPPF’s work with young people around the world, to ensure reproductive health and rights, please contact: Kat Watson at email@example.com. To learn more about IPPF’s “Girls Decide” campaign, click here.