20 de Junio: Algunos pequeños avances

This week, I had the opportunity to speak to the public in Bolivia about unwanted pregnancy and abortion in La Paz and El Alto.  Although time does not permit me to present a full report here, I would like to share with my readership a few important points about these phenomena.  And to those that attended the talk, and to those who could not:  muchísimas gracias a todas las mujeres que abrieron sus corazones para hablar conmigo, y a todos los individuos e instituciones que me aportaron durante los últimos tiempos.  Su apoyo ha sido imprescindible.

– Of a fairly random sample of 55 Bolivian women, 26 (roughly 47%) reported having experienced at least one unwanted pregnancy in their lives.  Of these 26 women, 16 ended up having their children anyway, while 9 underwent illegal abortions.  Of the 16 women who ended up giving birth, several had attempted to abort through various means, including by throwing themselves down flights of stairs and beating themselves in the abdomen.

-Of the sample of 55 women, 12 in total had at least one abortion.  3 of these women were FORCED to abort–two by their partners, and one by her mother.

-Of these 55 women, 5 became pregnant at least one time due to RAPE.

-Of the 12 women who had abortions, only 2 were adolescents at the time of the procedure, and half of the women were married or partnered.  6 of the women continued to have children after their abortions–meaning that abortion is used not only to avoid unwanted pregnancy, but to space wanted pregnancies.

-The majority of women in this sample who had abortions earn less than $214 per month.

-Of four women who went to public hospitals for treatment following incomplete abortions that they admitted were provoked, one had hired a midwife to insert a sound into her cervix; one bought abortifacient herbs in the street, and two went to private (but poor quality) medical clinics near–ironically–the city’s public cemetery.

-Of 50 women who went to the Hospital de la Mujer, a large public hospital, with “miscarriages” during 1994, 50% reported that their miscarriages had been caused by “accidents” such as falls and lifting heavy items.  Most doctors assert that the majority of these accidents are intentional.

-Of a sample of some 25-30 individuals who by law are required to report cases of provoked abortion to authorities, around 70% fail to do so because they do not believe that women who seek abortions, nor the doctors who provide them, should be jailed. The other 30% either doesn’t know they are required to report these cases to the police, or they simply lack the time to do so.

-Of a sample of 113 individuals in total–representing a variety of social sectors, occupations, ages, ethnicities, and income levels–the majority report being against abortion.  At the same time, 95% of this group knows at least one woman who has gotten an abortion, and 100% knows exactly where to go to obtain one.  Several people characterize illegal provoked abortion in Bolivia as, “un secreto a voces,” or, an open secret.

-6 of 10 women in Bolivia will have at least one provoked abortion in her lifetime.  Most of these women will never tell anyone about their abortions.

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