Campaigners warn 170 women have approached them asking for legal and psychological help in the wake of unexpectedly getting pregnant after taking the apparently defective contraceptive pills since October 2019 - warning many have suffered “unimaginable harm”.
Campaigners told The Independent they have been supporting women whose physical and mental health has suffered “devastating” harm by being forced to continue with unplanned pregnancies.
Some of the women are said to already be living in desperate poverty, while others have been forced to drop out of school or university or quit their jobs, with some having been shunned by relatives and friends.
Anita Pena, the executive director of Chilean organisation Miles, which is involved in the case, told The Independent: “We are working with 170 women who have been affected by the bad pills. They have contacted us for legal, psychological and social help. All women are aged between 20 and 40.
“We found out the Ministry of Health distributed more than 26,000 packs of pills across the country which means more than 26,000 could have an unplanned pregnancy. That is a disaster. This is pregnancy without the women’s consent.
“When women find out the situation, we will have more victims of the state. We have a very conservative government who doesn’t care about the sexual and reproductive rights of women. These women need to have access to abortion.”
Ms Pena argued women who have unexpectedly fallen pregnant after taking the pills now need to “completely change” their life - adding that in some cases, it can be very difficult for them to hold onto their jobs.
She added: “In the pandemic, it is very difficult to find another job. Or instead, they have a child coming and they don't have an income to provide for them. There is another woman doing her studies, who dreamt of going to university and then finding a job. This has affected her mental health.”
Patriarchal values are deeply embedded in Chilean society - with divorce only being made legal in 2004 and high levels of domestic violence.
Nicole*, who fell pregnant after taking the pill, said she had taken the same contraceptive pill for a decade and had never had any issues.
She added: “I always followed the same routine. I took the pill at the same time every day. The truth is I never had a complication or pregnancy scare. But when this happened I missed my period and I took a few pregnancy tests and they came out positive.
“I went to the gynaecologist to conduct some exams and I learned I was eight weeks pregnant. I had learned on the news that the pill I was taking was taken off the market. For me and my partner, it was such a surprising situation.”
She said they had wanted to have a baby together “eventually” but they did not plan to do so this year - especially in the middle of a pandemic.
“We decided to move forward with the pregnancy. Among other things, in Chile abortion laws do not exist and pregnancy due to faulty pills would not be considered a legal reason to have an abortion.
“The first few months were difficult. It was hard to accept the situation. I was frustrated. I had planned to be a mother in about two or three years and I felt now obligated to accept motherhood. I didn’t and I don’t feel ready to be a mum.”
She said she had been planning a number of professional projects and a postgraduate degree but she was now having to be a mother despite not planning to be one yet.
Paula Avila-Guillen, executive director of the Women’s Equality Centre, told The Independent: “Imagine if you will: you are told that you must be responsible, as so often the world tells women when it comes to their reproductive health.
“You take every step to do what you consider is best for you, take your contraceptives every day, you pick them up every month. Then you find out that despite all your best efforts, you become pregnant. Because the government has deceived you. Because the government has failed you.
“Women have lost their jobs, been forced to drop out of school, face financial troubles, as well as an incalculable emotional toll from this deception.”
She called for the state to immediately respond to the violation - arguing it has a duty “to do right by” the women and families affected.
Ms Avila-Guillen added: “Women seeking contraceptives are exercising their right to choose when and how they become mothers in a way that makes most sense for their project of life. The Chilean state took this choice away from them, causing unimaginable harm.”
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