The pills were misoprostol, a prescription drug that is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for reducing gastric ulcers and that researchers say is commonly, though illegally, used within the Dominican community to induce abortion. Two new studies by reproductive-health providers suggest that improper use of such drugs is one of myriad methods, including questionable homemade potions, frequently employed in attempts to end pregnancies by women from fervently anti-abortion cultures despite the widespread availability of safe, legal and inexpensive abortions in clinics and hospitals.
Dr. Carolyn Westhoff, an obstetrician at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, said the trend fits into a larger context of Dominicans seeking home remedies rather than the care of doctors or hospitals, partly because of a lack of insurance but mostly because of a lack of trust in the health care system. “This is not just a culture of self-inducted abortion,” she said. “This is a culture of going to the pharmacy and getting the medicine you need.”
Physicians say that women can obtain the pills either through pharmacies that are willing to bend the rules and provide the medicine without a prescription or by having the drugs shipped from overseas.
The pills allow pregnant women a degree of denial over what is taking place. Like Ms. Dominguez, many women in the neighborhood talk about the need to bring on — or “down” — their periods, not abortion. Afterward, they might tell doctors or relatives they had lost the baby.