Hey, girls, wanna know what's going to be hot in 2012? With funding being slashed for Planned Parenthood left and right and a group of nutjobs who think zygotes and corporations are people running for President, next year it's going to be super hard to afford a fancy storebought abortion. What to do? Do it yourself, like these trendsetting New York City ladies!
While it sounds far fetched, herbal, DIY herbal abortion is shockingly routine in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood, thanks to a dynamic and hellish duo of factors: lack of resources to afford medical care and cultural stigma against both unwed mothers and abortion. Because of these things, in the Heights, the unenthusiastically pregnant turn to over-the-counter herbal concoctions rather than modern medicine. This understandably concerns some doctors and women's health advocates.
According to DNAinfo's Carla Zanoni, women of Washington Heights are particularly fond of two "natural" remedies— hierba de ruda and Humphrey's #11. Both are often prescribed by practitioners of santeria, a religion with Cuban and West African origins. Hierba de ruda, or just ruda, is made from a non-edible plant and was used last month in the case of a 20-year-old Washington Heights woman who left her stillborn fetus in a Manhattan dumpster. Humphrey's #11 is the brand name of a pill that, according to the packaging, is designed to treat the symptoms of "delayed menses," which is a pretty roundabout way of insinuating pregnancy.
Pills and tea appeal to these women because abortion isn't cheap— even a pregnancy caught in its early weeks will cost a woman a pretty penny, and the longer one waits to terminate a pregnancy, the more expensive and invasive the procedure. Many women in Washington Heights lack both Medicare and health insurance. Plus, hierba de ruda only costs about $3, and Humphrey's #11 rings up at under $10. It's much easier to gather $10 than scrounge together $600.
Because the population of Washington Heights is primarily Latino, cultural mores dictate that a woman should not be having sex outside of marriage, but she especially should not have an abortion. Unmarried pregnant women in the community find themselves between a rock and a hard place, and abortion ends up being the least shitty of a field of terrible possible outcomes to an unplanned predicament. A cheap herbal remedy that can be taken in the privacy of one's home without anyone being the wiser is perfect for a woman whose social survival is on the line.
There's no way to describe the set of circumstances that would lead a woman to try to induce her abortion as anything but unfortunate. Women shouldn't feel compelled by social pressure to abandon safe, reliable medicine in favor of unreliable and occasionally dangerous folk treatments. But this is the reality of a society that doesn't trust women to wield bodily autonomy. And, if some politicians get their way, every woman who needed an abortion would be left to their own DIY devices.