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Health Care Women Int. 1997 Jan-Feb;18(1):43-53.

Unsafe abortions: methods used and characteristics of patients attending hospitals in Nairobi, Lima, and Manila.

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Institute of Population Studies, University of Exeter, United Kingdom.


Using quantitative and qualitative data, the authors present selected characteristics of 626 women who reported complications of induced abortion in five hospitals: one in Nairobi, two in Lima, and two in Manila. Although there are some similarities, the findings show some marked differences in demographic characteristics. In Nairobi nearly all respondents were single, nulliparous, and 25 years or younger; in Lima and Manila most were either married or in union, usually aged 25 years or older and had at least 1 child. There was evidence of repeat abortions, especially in Nairobi where 26% had had at least one previous abortion. Access to safe abortions is severely restricted and is obtained through a secret referral system. A list of potentially hazardous local abortifacients range from the drinking of strong Kenyan tea to dangerous practices such as insertion of sharp objects into the uterus or drinking chemicals and toxic substances.


Interviews with 626 women treated in 1993 for complications of unsafe abortion at five hospitals in Nairobi (Kenya), Lima (Peru), and Manila (Philippines) revealed marked differences in their demographic characteristics. The percentage under 25 years of age was 26% in Manila, 45% in Lima, and 91% in Nairobi. 84% of abortion patients in Nairobi were single compared with 77% in Manila and 21% in Lima; 77% of women in Nairobi had no children compared with 29% in Lima and 11% in Manila. In general, Nairobi abortion seekers tended to be young women who migrated to the city and were concerned pregnancy would impede their social mobility. In Lima and Manila, abortion was sought to limit births within union, generally for financial reasons. Never-use of contraception was reported by 80% of Kenyan women, 65% of Manila women, and 48% of those in Lima. When presented with 11 scenarios that might justify an abortion, the only indication the majority in all three cities supported was pregnancy resulting from rape. Women reported use of abortifacient agents such as livestock droppings, drinking chemicals and detergents, herbal medicines, and overdoses of over-the-counter medications, as well as insertion of sharp objects into the uterus. 98% of Kenyan respondents compared with 36% in Peru and 24% in the Philippines claimed illegal abortion was common; 92%, 75%, and 35%, respectively, were aware of at least one woman who died after an unsafe abortion. All of the women in Kenya and 89% in the Philippines reported it was difficult or very difficult to obtain an abortion; most were obtained through a secret referral system and involved unsanitary conditions. These findings indicate a need for postabortion family planning counseling as well as scrutiny of existing abortion laws and policies.

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