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Abortion in the midst of a complex humanitarian emergency: Venezuela

By the time Mariana found out she was less than a month pregnant, almost all of Venezuela was in the dark. It was March 2019 and most of the 23 states were without electricity due to a fault. In some areas they lasted five days without light. In others, seven.

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There was no public transportation, no way to pump water to urban areas, no Internet for transactions. Many hospitals were without power and intensive care patients were without life support. In the midst of this chaos, Mariana took a pregnancy test and immediately knew she did not want to have a baby. Not only because of her personal circumstances, but because of what was happening in the country.

"I was out of work. My partner was in another city and I didn't know what the relationship was going to end in. I didn't want to take on that responsibility at the time, I didn't feel ready," she explains. "At that time there were no birth control pills, no diapers, no milk and no electricity in the whole country. I was thinking about that baby, am I going to bring him/her to live through this? And then I thought about me. I wasn't obligated to have him."

She talked it over with her partner, and they decided to start looking for options to have an abortion in Venezuela. Mariana became one of the 2,200 women who in 2019 had an abortion in the country, but not before going through traumatic situations that could have been avoided if this practice were legal.

The odyssey of abortion in Venezuela
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The Venezuelan State criminalizes abortion in all its variants, except when the life of the pregnant person is in danger. The Penal Code, in its articles 432 to 435, establishes prison sentences from six months to two years for a woman who intentionally causes an abortion and from one year to two and a half years for anyone who assists her in doing so. 

Knowing that she would not be able to access a safe abortion in a health center, Mariana searched on social networks for black market medicine sellers to obtain misoprostol. At that time, Venezuela had an 85% deficit in medicines, which fueled a parallel market where everything was sold at exorbitant prices. Sometimes buyers received placebos; other times, expired pills; if they were lucky, what they were looking for.

"I had a contact here, but she didn't have the pills. They sold me some that didn't work, maybe they were expired," says Mariana. "In my house nobody knew. I grew up in a family where this is wrong. They weren't going to support me if they knew I was going to have an abortion... I have a cousin who had an abortion once, but I couldn't ask her to help me because she doesn't talk about it. It's taboo.

Mariana says she was 29 years old at the time. She was not a pregnant teenager, but that did not make her decision not to have one any less valid.

So she arranged with her partner to travel to Caracas and buy other pills there. She did so, but despite following the instructions, those pills didn't work either. "It was the horror story of anyone who has a clandestine abortion," she says.

Dehumanizing treatment

The Venezuelan State criminalizes abortion in all its variants, except when the life of the pregnant person is in danger. The Penal Code, in its articles 432 to 435, establishes prison sentences of six months to two years for a woman who intentionally causes an abortion and from one year to two and a half years for anyone who helps her to do so.

She then decided to have the same doctor perform the abortion using her instruments. She had the option of having it done under anesthesia in a clinic, but then her partner would not be able to be with her in the operating room. She did not want to be fully anesthetized and also hoped that her partner would be able to accompany her, so they did it in the office. "I discovered that I have a high pain tolerance," she notes. "It was quick, but ultra-painful."

Of that moment, she recalls that everything was squeaky clean and she received antibiotics to prevent infection. "My biggest fear was that I would bleed to death or look bad, but after a while I went to my trusted gynecologist and everything was in order. I would have liked to have had help here where I live, that my usual gynecologist would have attended me, but I didn't dare ask her because she had a statue of the Virgin Mary on her desk," she recalls.

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"Thank God, I am able to tell it."

She says that, some time after this experience, she saw on social networks that there was Aya Contigo, the application that provides virtual accompaniment and information about abortion to Venezuelan women, and she thought it was a wonderful initiative. Meeting Aya also prompted her to tell her story to raise awareness among those who are against abortion or are indifferent about what women go through in Venezuela, where this practice is illegal.

"Before, I used to say, 'That's not my problem, I'm not getting involved.' I didn't care," she says. But her experience made her change her position completely.

Now she thinks that abortion is a right and that the situation she experienced could happen to anyone. "When I had my abortion there was a couple with two children in the office and they were waiting for their turn. They were married and were leaving the country, they didn't have enough money to leave with a baby," she says.

"I want people to know that having an abortion doesn't make you a bad person," she explains. When asked if Aya Contigo had existed by that time, how would her situation have changed, she replied, "It would have been a great help, because there is too much misinformation." Currently Mariana is still with her partner, she is grateful for having made that decision and does not rule out having children in the future. "Thank God I'm counting it," she concludes.

 

Note: this article is the result of an interview. The name was changed to protect the privacy of the protagonist.

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