Five Malaysian women have died after using abortion pills they bought online through social media or popular shopping sites.
On Wednesday, the Malaysian government identified 11 websites through which misoprostol, or one part of the abortion pill, was sold. In Malaysia as in the U.S., misoprostol, also known as Cytotec, requires a prescription and can only be dispensed through pharmacies and hospitals. Sellers can be punished by a fine of RM3,000 (about $724) or a year in prison or both. According to Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad, four of the deaths were reported in 2015, and one of the deaths was reported in 2017.
“Four deaths were due to heavy bleeding after giving birth, while one other case was caused by amniotic fluid embolism. All of the cases involved the intravaginal insertion of products containing misoprostol,” said Dzulkefly.
Lazada Malaysia, one of the shopping sites listed by the Health Minister, took steps to ensure no abortion pills were currently being sold on its platform or could be sold in the future. Other local online retailers were taking similar measures.
In Malaysia, a country whose official religion is Islam, abortion is currently nominally legal, supposedly to save the life or the physical or mental health of the mother, although many say Malaysian doctors refuse to perform most abortions. Yet some women buy abortion pills online, which — according to some sources — are extremely easy to obtain. One such account describes finding a blog and purchasing pills from a seller “who spoke Bahasa Malaysia with a thick Chinese accent” for RM470, or about $113 USD.
Since 2017, the Malaysian government has blocked 20 social media sites for selling abortion pills, also raiding and seizing items from sellers of the illicit drugs, mostly from India and China, worth approximately $20,000.
A medication abortion is usually done by taking two drugs. The first one, Mifepristone, is typically taken orally in a doctor’s office or clinic and works by softening the cervix, blocking progesterone, and thinning the lining of the uterus, depriving the baby of nutrients and making it more difficult for the baby to stay attached to the uterine wall, while increasing sensitivity to the second drug. The second medication administered, Misoprostol, begins the contractions that expel the baby from the uterus.
In the United States where abortion is legal through all nine months of pregnancy, abortion advocates have begun to push unregulated abortion pills and DIY abortion as a possible solution to abortion restrictions, including the possible overturning of Roe v. Wade. Because of the potential for serious complications even when taking the drugs for a miscarriage in which the baby has already died, a patient must be followed closely by a physician. As of December 31, 2018, the FDA reports 24 women in the US have died from mifepristone. This risky practice not only ends the life of a baby in a cruel manner, but puts the lives of women at risk, as we see in Malaysia.
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