Abortifacient drugs have become so readily available in places like Chile and El Salvador that it has become impossible to enforce abortion bans. That was also the case in Ireland, where by some accounts, before last month’s legalization vote, at least two Irish women a day were self-administering abortions using pills.
The most widely available abortion drug in Latin America, misoprostol, is commonly used to treat ulcers. Although less effective than the combination of mifepristone and misoprostol used in the United States, misoprostol taken in the first trimester causes an abortion in approximately 90 percent of cases. In Brazil, where abortion is all but banned, experts estimate there are about a million illegal abortions each year; around half of them are induced using abortion drugs. Efforts to restrict access to misoprostol will fail not simply because it costs pennies to make, but also because it saves lives. The World Health Organization lists misoprostol as an “essential medicine” for treating miscarriages, and the drug has been credited with reducing deaths from illegal abortions.
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