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Woman miscarries in Ecuador where abortion is illegal

I bled while the doctor was talking to the nurse. My boyfriend and I were perched on plastic chairs, scared and confused. The nurse rolled her eyes in my direction. The doctor’s mouth twisted into a sneer. I heard the word “abortion” — “abortion” in Spanish. Then they turned away from us to exchange a few quiet banter.

I was in Quito, Ecuador for over a year. My Spanish was good, but I had never learned the word miscarriage. “I’m not pregnant anymore” is what I managed to say.

A few hours earlier, I had woken to dark sheets with blood and cramps worse than anything I had ever experienced. Looking at the sheets, I knew it was no ordinary abundant period, but I didn’t know I had been pregnant.

When the bleeding didn’t stop, we went to the hospital. I looked out the car window at the colonial-era buildings of Quito. I loved this city so high in the Andes. I had a vague idea that abortion was illegal, but I didn’t think it had anything to do with my situation.

I was wrong.

I learned that because abortion was illegal in Ecuador, many women had unsafe abortions or tried to self-aborte. When things went wrong, they would go to the hospital as a last resort to stop the bleeding or treat the infection, pretending to have had a miscarriage to avoid legal action. In 2014, deaths from such abortions accounted for 15.6% of all deaths in the country, Reuters reported.

I became a criminal suspect

Women like me who experience incomplete miscarriages may need medical intervention to stem the bleeding and ensure that all tissue comes out of the uterus. The treatment for an incomplete miscarriage is the same as for a voluntary abortion.

When the nurse finally put me on a stretcher, I tried to make it clear that I wanted local and not general anesthesia. Being unconscious in an unfamiliar hospital, at the mercy of people who treated me with suspicion and disdain, scared me far more than the procedure itself.

I learned a hard truth that day: an abortion ban is not just an abortion ban. This turns every woman with a gynecological emergency into a criminal suspect.

In a way, I was lucky. As a foreigner who could pay, I probably received better care than the average Ecuadorian. I was quite confused at the time and blocked out the details. But I think we paid $200, cash, before they even operated on me.

The next thing I remember is my boyfriend gently shaking me in the recovery room. “You’ve been out for almost an hour,” he said. “I thought you were in a coma.”

I was glad to be back in the States when we came back

When I returned to the United States, I was relieved to be back where abortion was safe and legal, and where no one would suspect me of faking a miscarriage to get an abortion. I was back in a country where many women – myself included – received their primary care in clinics, often free, which also offered abortions.

The Overthrow of Roe c. Wade throws it all out the window. If you miscarry in a US state that restricts abortion, you might face worse than I did in Ecuador. There are already examples of American women being sued for miscarriage. This can only generalize.

I don’t want to demonize Ecuador or Latin America, because abortion is legal in Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay and Mexico, sort of. In December, Mexico’s Supreme Court declared abortion no longer a crime, although its exact status varies from state to state. The difference is that in Mexico, reproductive rights are going up, while in the United States, they are going down.

Erin Van Rheenen is a writer, teacher, and traveler who has just completed a novel set in Central America.

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