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In Morocco, women turn to booming online abortion pill market, ‘no state should dictate pregnancy decisions’

WorldIn Morocco, women turn to booming online abortion pill market, ‘no state should dictate pregnancy decisions’


“I was a little suspicious,” said Asmaa, who spoke on the condition that only her first name be used due to the topic’s sensitivity.

“There are a lot of scams and no medical follow-ups,” she said. “You don’t know what ought to be done.”

Under Moroccan law, abortion is only allowed if a pregnancy is cause for imminent danger to a woman’s health.

Otherwise, the practice can result in a prison sentence of up to two years for the pregnant woman.

Any other person found to be involved in the procedure faces up to five years in prison – or double the sentence if the woman dies.

Arthrotec and Cytotec, drugs intended for rheumatism and ulcer treatment, were removed from the market in Morocco in 2018, after it was found that they were being used for abortions.

Despite the ban, abortions continue to take place on the sly.

Under Moroccan law, abortion is only allowed if a pregnancy is cause for imminent danger to a woman’s health. Photo: Shutterstock

According to the Moroccan Association to Fight Clandestine Abortion (AMLAC), between 600 and 800 abortions are carried in secret every day in the country.

In April, three people, including a nurse, were arrested in Kenitra, north of the capital Rabat, for trafficking medication and illegal termination of pregnancy.

Pills are often brought in from abroad or stolen from local hospitals and sold for over 10 times their original price.

On Facebook, sellers ask for 1,500 to 2,000 Moroccan dirhams (US$150 to US$200) per tablet, and do not provide directions for use or information on the right dosage, which can vary depending on how far a woman is into her pregnancy.

Once the order is placed, the tablets are delivered either by mail or in person – with no guarantee that it is the right medication or anything at all.

“I felt that they were not sure of what they were saying,” 29-year-old Imane, who also chose not to use her last name, said about an online seller.

Instead, she turned to her gynaecologist who referred her to a doctor for surgical abortion costing 20,000 dirhams and a nurse who sells abortion pills for 5,000 dirhams – both well beyond the housewife’s means.

Like Asmaa, Imane then sought the help of the Alternative Movement for Individual Liberties (MALI), which provides free abortion pills imported from abroad.

“The women who contact us come from all backgrounds, ages, and nationalities,” said Ibtissame Betty Lachgar, a clinical psychologist and the movement’s coordinator.

Trained by Dutch organisation Women on Waves, which provides abortion pills to countries with restrictive abortion laws, Lachgar said she has helped between 1,500 and 2,000 women since 2012 and receives requests every day.

“I am ready to go to prison for my ideas and for my actions, because I act for the rights of women and against their oppression by the patriarchal system,” she said, adding that she makes sure to show her patients how to use the pills and provide follow-ups.

No state should dictate pregnancy decisions and deny women and girls essential sexual and reproductive health services … that they are entitled to under international law

Amjad Yamin, Amnesty International

Last week, Amnesty International called for the decriminalisation of abortion in the North African kingdom.

The group said Morocco was “failing to meet its obligations” and “forcing women and girls into dangerous situations”.

“No state should dictate pregnancy decisions and deny women and girls essential sexual and reproductive health services … that they are entitled to under international law,” said Amjad Yamin, Amnesty International’s MENA deputy director.

Moroccan authorities did not reply to a request for comment on the subject and on how the online trafficking of abortion pills was being monitored.

A 2016 draft law aiming to allow abortion in the event of pregnancy from rape or incest fell through after stirring a nationwide controversy.

“Society remains conservative,” said Chafik Chraibi, the head of AMLAC.

“There is a return of religion and a lack of political will” to overcome certain norms, he said, adding that the countries that legalised abortion “understood that we would get there one day or another, so we might as well do it today”.

Asmaa travelled over 700 kilometres (434 miles) to get a hold of abortion pills, as she was “physically and mentally not ready” to have a second baby.

“I don’t understand why others have to decide on my behalf,” she said.



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