an After abortion

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Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Hard To Swallow.

"When Viviane Borges Coutinho found out that she was four months pregnant last year, she knew exactly what to do. Still breastfeeding her 10-month-old son, with no job and no partner, she knew she didn't have the resources to raise another child. After making enquiries, she made the two-hour journey from her home to a street vendor in central Rio de Janeiro. There, she exchanged the money she had saved up for two tablets of the anti-ulcer drug Cytotec - Latin America's clandestine solution to the illegality of abortion.

Every woman in Brazil knows about Cytotec. How to swallow one, then insert the other. How it brings on sickness and diarrhoea, but eventually rids them of a pregnancy that for many impoverished women would be untenable. Coutinho was simply doing the same thing as thousands of other women.

But this time it went wrong. After suffering severe stomach cramps, she was persuaded by worried friends to go to hospital. Within minutes, an angry doctor detected the Cytotec and accused her of killing her child. Coutinho was left alone and in agony. Eventually she went to the bathroom, where she expelled the dead foetus. This time the medics accused her of homicide by attempting to flush the foetal remains down the lavatory. Haemorrhaging badly, Coutinho went into a state of shock. The next thing she knew, a policeman was handcuffing her to her bed. The nightmare, which would lead to two months in Rio's most notorious jail, had begun."

I know women who have felt a dead fetus slip out of their body and then seen it--some because of natural miscarriage and some because of chemical abortions. None of them can speak of this moment with equanimity, to say the least. For those who chose the chain of circumstances that brought about that moment, it is a far more horrible memory, though.

The nightmare of Viviane Borges Coutinho didn't begin when she entered her jail cell and--I say this with confidence, sympathy and sadness--it didn't end when she left.

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