In light of a decision by Facebook to allow a women’s care group to post "Do-It-Yourself" abortion instructions on its profile, experts are investigating how common DIY abortions really are.
Rebecca Gomperts, director of Women on Waves – an organization that sails to countries where abortions are illegal and provides the procedures aboard a ship – posted directions on how to induce an abortion using Misoprostol, a drug designed for arthritic patients.
Facebook removed the photo before re-posting it and reportedly issuing an apology to Gomperts.
That incident comes as the District Attorney of New York dismissed a self-abortion case against a women who allegedly induced a premature birth after six months of pregnancy using an over-the-counter tea concoction. The woman left the fetus in a dumpster.
The 20-year-old Washington Heights woman, Yaribely Almonte, told police that she wrapped the fetus in plastic and left it in a yellow bucket before placing it in the dumpster. Officials did not elaborate on their decision to discontinue prosecution, and it remains unknown how police linked Almonte to the fetus.
Self-abortion is considered "unsafe" – an abortion performed without proper medical equipment, or by people without medical training (including the pregnant woman herself) – and is illegal in New York and in many U.S. jurisdictions.
Conviction of self-abortion cases is rare. According to the Division of Criminal Justice Services, only four people have been charged with the crime and on defendant was convicted. The one conviction resulted in no jail time or probation.
But the few documented court cases of self-abortion charges do not adequately encompass the breadth of the issue.
Authorities believe Almonte drank one of several herbal teas that induce birth – hierba de ruda, or simply, "ruda." According to DNAinfo.com, "ruda" has been back-ordered throughout Washington Heights (Almonte’s neighborhood) and Inwood – both low-income communities in the uptown area of Manhattan in New York City.
There are several factors that force women to induce self-abortions, according to experts.
Cultural stigma plays a large role, particularly in religious neighborhoods and communities, in deciding whether a woman should have the child, visit an abortion clinic or induce birth herself.
Eva Hernandez-El Fayed, director of youth programming at the Urban Media Masters program in New York, said women are scared of persecution – particularly those in the heavily Catholic neighborhood in which Almonte lives.
"[She is] not only going to be demonized by outsiders, but by her own community. She's going to be dealing with it from both sides," Hernandez-El Fayed told DNAinfo.com.
Hernandez-El Fayed added that women in Almonte’s position have few options.
"She's not going to see a doctor," she said. "In this culture, the value placed on family is the highest that you could possibly think of, so she's going to be forced to make difficult decisions."
Another reason women self-abort is because they do not have access to women’s health clinics and cannot see the full spectrum of options for themselves and their unborn fetus.
According to Women on Waves, a woman dies from an unsafe illegal abortion procedure every eight minutes, although the World Health Organization says that figure is specific to women in developing countries.
Jane Crepps, Deputy Director of the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, says a woman’s environment makes the difference in her birth choice.
"Women who are poor – who come from a country where abortion is illegal, who carry the stigma, who don’t know what services are available to them here -– wind up with these sad circumstances," Crepps told iVillage.
Crepps added that it is not only women in more restrictive nations that face this problem.
"A poor adolescent in Mississippi can find herself in the same situation because of all the rules – there’s a 24-hour waiting period, two-parent consent rule, limited facilities that can perform the function, no Medicaid coverage," Crepps said. "The state contributes hurdle after hurdle that allow for a stigma that it’s something to be ashamed of and keep a secret. People make assumptions about these women and don’t try to understand their situations. You wouldn’t stand for this in any other kind of healthcare."
The pro-choice group RH Reality Check echoes the sentiment that current U.S. legislation prohibits women from obtaining proper education and resources, adding pro-life groups' goals are focused on proving political points rather than helping women.
"We have to ask then – is the outcry when women choose to self-induce truly driven by the need to protect the health and safety of the woman? Or is this another example of over-regulation because of the politics of abortion?" a group statement read.
In a response to the RH post, Pro Life News summed up the pro-life camp’s self-abortion position, while lambasting women’s care clinics for promoting abortion.
"These are the people who have screamed themselves hoarse for decades about wanting abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. It’s a lie," wrote Kristen Walker. "They only care that it’s legal. They routinely defend abortion doctors with pitiful records of harming women, and now they’re telling women they don’t need a doctor at all."
Walker said pro-choice groups should look at the underlying issue that creates unwanted pregnancies.
"Rarity is also not one of their chief concerns," Walker added. "If it were, they might be open to encouraging abstinence – the only method of birth control that works 100 percent of the time – instead of sexual libertinism."
Experts also mention that the availability and relative ease of DIY abortions – or, at least, the availability of birth-inducing material – contributes to its continued prevalence.
Hierba de ruda and a second birth-inducing homeopathic remedy, Humphrey’s #11, are readily available online and in convenience stores for 2-10 dollars.
Misoprostol is available over-the-counter in some states under a variety of brand names, most popularly Cytotec and Cyprostol.
According to WHO, about half of all abortions worldwide are considered "unsafe."