August 13, 2012 — Women in South Texas who obtain a drug from Mexican pharmacies to terminate a pregnancy often do not know the proper dosage or receive important follow-up care, according to reproductive health providers, the Texas Tribune/New York Times reports. Many women in the region are from Latin American countries, where abortion is often illegal and heavily stigmatized and self-medication is common.
The drug, misoprostol, is not prescribed on its own for abortions in the U.S.; rather, it is paired with the drug mifepristone as part of a medication abortion, according to the Tribune/Times. However, the World Health Organization has said misoprostol alone can be used as an abortion method if it is taken correctly and used within the first nine weeks of pregnancy. In the U.S., the drug primarily is used to prevent stomach ulcers.
Pharmacies in Mexico are largely unregulated, and workers at small, independent pharmacies often are untrained. Many pharmacy workers are wary of providing women with information about abortion because it is illegal outside of Mexico's capital city, according to the Tribune/Times.
Dan Grossman, an ob-gyn who is vice president for research at Ibis Reproductive Health, said the biggest risk from taking the drug improperly is that it will not be effective and the pregnancy may continue without the women's knowledge.
Kristeena Banda -- director of Whole Woman's Health in McAllen, Texas, one of two Rio Grande Valley abortion providers -- said the clinic receives a few visits each week from women who have taken misoprostol but still have pregnancy symptoms. She said that because of a lack of proper instructions, women take the drug in varying amounts, based on the recommendations of family and friends.
The recommended dosage for using misoprostol alone for an abortion is four tablets (800 micrograms) every three hours, for a total of 12 tablets, according to WHO. However, some women ingest an entire bottle within days, according to Banda.
Abortion-rights advocates worry that women will increasingly seek unregulated treatments because they are not aware of their clinical options in the U.S. and because cuts to family planning programs and increasing abortion restrictions will further reduce their options (Tan, Texas Tribune/New York Times, 8/11).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership