Women in Venezuela are having children they don’t want or can’t afford because millions of them can’t access even the most basic methods of birth control, in a country where abortion is illegal.
According to the New York Times, Venezuela’s economic crisis has made contraceptives scarce, including in major cities, where pills, patches, and implanted devices can be “nearly impossible” to find. If they are available, it’s usually at a price that’s prohibitively high: In the country’s capital, a three-pack of condoms costs three times Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage; oral contraceptives cost more than twice as much as condoms (and for just one month’s supply); and long-acting forms of contraception, like IUDs, are priced at more than 25 times the minimum wage. The few nonprofit clinics that provide free birth control are overburdened, and women sometimes sleep outside hoping to beat the crowds, the Times reports.
The scarcity has left people with very little reproductive autonomy as well as very little control over their lives—these things are, of course, necessarily connected. Some couples may try to abstain from sex altogether, or use fertility awareness to avoid unplanned pregnancies; but they often happen anyway, resulting in women parenting more children than they can care for, which is ruinous for mental health and can take a toll on their entire family.
From the Times:
[Johanna] Guzmán delivered her sixth child, Yorkeinys, in April, when the country was in the grip of the pandemic and her husband, a mechanic, had been out of work for weeks. When she arrived home from the hospital, there were only lentils in the pantry, she said, and all of her children were hungry. She lapsed into a depression and spent 20 days in bed.
“Like a pit with no exit,” is how she described her worst days. “All dark, you turn here, and it’s all dark, you turn there, and it’s all dark.”
The plan she’d nurtured since she was a child—to become a chemist—is indefinitely on hold.
Because banning abortion doesn’t stop abortions from happening, some people seek out the procedure despite the criminal penalties for doing so. Underground networks have formed to help people give themselves an abortion with pills—a safe and effective way of ending a pregnancy, it is important to note—but the cost of the pills can be out of reach for people as well. Out of options, some people may seek out a dubious clinic, or attempt an at-home abortion without the information and support that would otherwise make it safe, and die of a botched procedure.
The reproductive health crisis in Venezuela may be more extreme than the one in the United States, but it’s not without its parallels. Trump-era Title X rules hiked up the costs of birth control across the country, by banning certain clinics from accessing the federal funds that subsidize contraceptives for low-income patients. Many health clinics that provide free or low-cost birth control options have also shuttered, putting millions of Americans in contraceptive deserts. And though abortion is legal in all 50 states, it’s not necessarily accessible, and state restrictions have also led tens of thousands of people to self-manage their abortions.
To different extents, the ability to decide when and if to have a child is a matter of socioeconomic circumstance in both countries.
“It’s not OK that I had to have an abortion in a warehouse. It’s not OK that I passed out, that I became depressed, it’s not OK that I feel the way I do,” one woman told the Times. “It’s not OK that the country pushes you into this desperation, that all it does it close its doors to you. I am resilient, yes. But at some point, all of us get tired. And I am tired. I am so tired.”