Immigrants Lured to Cheap, Do-It-Yourself Abortion


Kelly, a part-time hairdresser from Atlanta, took five little white pills at 7 a.m. and will take five more before her 6-week-old fetus is completely aborted.

"I am going through this as we speak," said Kelly, who did not want her last name used. "What I read about it was really scary. I didn't sleep at all last night, I was so anxious."

At first, the cramping pain and bleeding was "like a bad period" -- but later "it got worse" and even the painkiller hydrocodone didn't help. But Kelly could deal with the emotional event in the privacy of her own home and at about half the cost of a surgical abortion..


Kelly induced a miscarriage with misoprostol, sold under the brand name Cytotec, an FDA-approved drug for treating stomach ulcers. But it also has an off-label use that is a both a blessing and a curse.

Safe and effective, the drug is used globally to prevent women from post-partum hemorrhaging and is widely prescribed in combination with RU-486 in the United States to induce miscarriage.

But for some low-income women, misoprostol has become a do-it-yourself abortion tool.

That wasn't the case with Kelly. An ultrasound revealed her fetus had no heartbeat and she would eventually miscarry. But like many women, she elected a medical rather than a surgical procedure because it was cheaper and carried a lower out-of-pocket cost -- about $20 for the prescription.

Kelly is under the care of a doctor, but many women, particularly immigrants, are uninsured or don't have access to health care, and end up in emergency rooms or without professional care when things go wrong.

In 2007, a Massachusetts teenager took misoprostol in an attempt to induce a miscarriage at 25 weeks and the 1-pound baby was delivered prematurely and died. Amber Abreu, who was 18, faced murder charges that were later dismissed.

Health experts say illicit use of the drug underscores the barriers that many women face when trying to access reproductive care, particularly immigrants and women of color.

They worry that the amendment in the passage of the new health care law to ban the use of federal funds in Medicaid and insurance exchanges for abortion could further marginalize women's access to reproductive care.

"What the amendment does is if you are poor, you cannot get an abortion," said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas , deputy director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH). "Wealthy women can pay out of pocket and have access to clinics and services."

Under current law, abortion funding is prohibited through a patchwork of policies, most of which must be annually reapproved in appropriations bills. Now, Congress will consider the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act," which proponents say will provide a consistent government-wide prohibition on abortion funding.

The bill would also codify the so-called conscience clause known as Hyde-Weldon, offering protections for medical workers who refuse to participate in abortions. Only an act of Congress could reverse the law if it passes.

Kelly understands the prohibitive cost of abortion, but supports restrictions on federal funding.

"A woman can choose to do what she wants, but it's up to her to pay for it," she said. "It's not up to insurance or Obama care. It's not the government's responsibility. I stand 100 percent for choice, but not with my tax dollars."

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