How backstreet abortionists terminate 7-month pregnancies

AT A GLANCE

Part 2 of 3

MANILA, Philippines – The advertisements on the online forum are clear and compelling, vowing painless abortions for pregnant women. They assure Filipinas they can terminate pregnancies at any stage, even up until 7 months, without much pain.

The women believe them.

It's a mix of desperation and a lack of knowledge on safe abortion methods that drives Filipinas to put their faith – and their lives – in the hands of other women they don't know, backstreet abortionists they meet online, who assure them they can help for a low price.

For some, Miss Shine and Miss Julie, two of the most discussed backstreet abortionists in the online forum, are heaven-sent, the answer to their prayers.

They say as much in the reviews they leave online.

User ForgiveMeLord, an OFW working in the Middle East, said she immediately filed for emergency leave to get an abortion in the Philippines, after she found out she was a month-and-two-weeks pregnant.

“We all know it is illegal to get pregnant there when you aren’t married, or else you will get jail time,” she explained in her May 12, 2018 post.

“I was so depressed that time because I didn’t know what to do, and I was in good terms with my husband and didn’t want to ruin my family. I almost commited suicide,” she said. The pregnancy was the result of an illicit affair.

She said she searched Facebook as soon as she arrived in the Philippines in hopes of finding vendors who sell pills until she came across Miss Shine’s ads. She said she called the number immediately and arranged for a schedule that very day. (READ: The reality of abortions in the Philippines)

She said she met a staff member named Jen at 5 pm at SM, a mall in the northern part of Metro Manila. She said Jen was kind to her, and brought her to an “okay and clean place” for her Dilation and Curettage (D&C) procedure, wherein the woman's cervix is opened, and her uterus scraped.

“It was painful and I felt a twinge in some places, but I had to endure it for the sake of all. It was done in 15-20 minutes and I rested for almost an hour before going home in Makati,” she said. “Thank God everything went well.”

She said a check-up with doctors at a private hospital two days after cleared her of any infection and confirmed she was no longer pregnant.

“In my whole life, I never thought I would do anything like this. I’ve committed a big sin, but I hope the Lord will understand why I did this,” she said. “Big thanks to Ms Shine, what I paid you was worth it. I will now return to the Middle East to continue my work.”

As with most posts in the forum, several users thanked her for sharing her experience and expressed their support and happiness for her successful procedure. One user affirmed that Jen, Miss Shine’s staff, was nice to her as well, while still another wished her well for her return trip.

Another user, Carliecurlie, posted on January 17, 2018, her own experience with Miss Julie.

“I would like to thank miss Julie and her assistant miss Ann for helping me solve my problem before it ruined my family,” she said. “I'm married and was set up and raped and unfortunately I got pregnant at the same time.”

“If it weren’t for you, I may have killed myself already. So thank you.”

Another user "loisa", who came to Manila from Cebu for Miss Julie’s procedure, posted on March 2, 2017. She said she heard about Miss Julie through a friend’s referral.

Loisa, who said she was 20 years old without a steady boyfriend, described Miss Julie's place as having “a separate room within their facilities, everyone gets a room” and said she was briefed about the procedure by a staff member. She said there was music playing during the procedure, and that she was given medication to loosen her cervix.

“After about an hour or so when it was clear the drugs had started working I was led down to the small operating room. I had to take off my undies and wait until everything was ready,” she said. “Then all I felt was my cervix being stretched, it felt a bit like a [pap smear], and otherwise not much else. I was in the room for about 7 minutes just to completely dilate my cervix before we proceed for the procedure.”

She described the experience as “very easy and relaxed.”

“The experience in the end was definitely not scary or terrible like some seem. Miss Julie and her assistants were lovely and the procedure was easy. I only had the procedure a day ago but today I haven't had many cramps or blood. They also offer counseling but I feel fine about the whole experience,” she said.

“I think much of the guilt girls feel about getting an abortion is because people expect us to feel that way. Having a baby is completely life-changing and I want to be ready to give my baby the best life.”

'Heartless' 

Yet while there are positive reviews, the negative reviews are chilling in their details.

While these backstreet abortionists are saviors to some, they are also torturers to many other women, who are subjected to physical, mental, and emotional pain after suffering in the hands of Miss Shine and Miss Julie.

Aside from the account of a certain aifa2500, who allegedly died after a procedure with Miss Shine, there are numerous tales of painful procedures that don't use anesthesia, botched abortions, and nightmarish post-abortion complications.

Women shared stories of being yelled at and blamed when they complained of the pain. Others complained that abortionists extorted more money on the spot or asked them to give up their watches or jewelry to pay for additional pills or treatment, and still others said their phone calls and messages about post-abortion care were ignored as soon as payments were settled.

User hannah2626 talked about her traumatic experience with Miss Shine in a post dated January 30, 2018.

The 21-year-old said she first approached Miss Shine for a medical abortion when she was 4 weeks pregnant, but Miss Shine said she’d have to go through a surgical one. (The World Health Organization or WHO recommends medical abortions, or taking abortive pills instead of surgery, for women who want to abort in their first trimester).

“They unlocked the house and when I came inside it looked like a totally ordinary subdivision house, I saw no medical bed nor any machines I expected a clinic would have. And that was when I realized that this was gonna be painful,” she wrote. (READ: A hard look at abortion in the PH)

Hannah2626 said she was told to lie on a “short wooden table” where she underwent the D&C procedure. She said, "Jen was pressing down on my abdomen while the old woman scraped away inside my vagina."

“I think it lasted for 15 minutes. But it was the longest 15 minutes of my life. It was very painful! I read that there would be anesthesia but I was fed with wrong info,” she said.

“I wasn't anesthetized at all! I got to experience every painful scraping and what's worse is that I couldn't scream, my face constricted and I let out tight yelps…It was so terrifying, I felt like being stabbed with a knife over and over again.” 

She said she was given medicine, charged an additional P2,000 ($50) on top of the agreed upon price of P8,000 ($150), and sent home.

But hannah2626’s troubles were far from over.

Weeks after the procedure, hannah2626 said she began vomiting and her vagina started gushing blood. Her frantic texts to Miss Shine went unanswered.

A visit to an Ob-gynecologist confirmed she was 8 weeks pregnant. The initial abortion did not work.

Desperate and with no choice but to leave her new job, hannah2626 again reached out to Miss Shine for a second procedure, which she said was her "biggest mistake."

“I texted Shine again that I would like to avail their services, and finally hallelujah she replied. She only replied at the smell of money, I was so disappointed but not surprised,” she wrote.

Because she was more advanced in her pregnancy, hannah2626 said she was told to undergo a catheter procedure.

The catheter procedure, the method advertised by Miss Shine and Miss Julie for women who are 3-7 months pregnant, consists of the backstreet abortionists inserting a straight catheter into a woman's vagina, and leaving it inside for how ever long it takes, until it induces contractions.

Miss Shine however, assures her clients that within 24 hours of the catheter being inserted, the fetus "will come out."

“She stuck a catheter inside me and gave me meds and sent me home,” hannah2626 said of her second attempted abortion.

“I couldn't sleep that night. It was so painful. It was even more painful as I followed her instructions to sleep face down. I bled and I bled… the morning after was worse as huge blood clots came out handful after handful.”

Finally, the pain was so unbearable that her boyfriend begged her to remove the catheter from her vagina.

"When the second day started to end I finally listened to my boyfriend who kept saying to stop it. I was just so desperate that I hoped maybe the procedure might work," she wrote. 

She said she texted Miss Shine's staff member, telling her she wanted to stop the procedure.

"At first she told me to keep going, but how could I... She gave in and finally said to remove the catheter, which I did. I was so relieved."

At the end of her post, hannah2626 said she was continuing to search for another option, for a third abortion attempt, from someone else.

“Please, no matter how desperate you are, don't be blinded by Shine's false advertising. You will only be disappointed,” she said.

Another similar experience was shared in a post dated April 25, 2017, by user Topsy Krets, who had gone through a catheter procedure with Miss Julie.

She described her abortionist as “heartless.”

Topsy Krets, who was 6 months pregnant when she met with Miss Julie on April 21, said she was given some medicine, before a catheter was inserted into her cervix. She was given instructions on how to take the remaining pills, then sent home with the catheter still inside her.

“After the instructions, I asked and tried to beg them to allow me to stay or at least assist me, but they said I had to pay P15,000 ($282) to stay and that [the P5,000 or $100] I paid earlier wasn’t nearly enough,” she said.

When she got home, the user said she finished the medicine given to her – which induced her labor. She said she was in labor for roughly 20 hours, until she was forced to give birth on her own.

“I knew it was a normal delivery, because it was what I went through when I had my first child,” she wrote.

“For an hour, I kept pushing, and I noticed that the catheter was slowly coming out. I thought it was being pushed alongside my baby, and so I pushed harder until the baby was out along with the catheter,” she wrote.

“And then I delivered the placenta next. I didn’t forcefully pull on the placenta. I just kept pushing and slowly pulling it out. Then what happened next is all about the baby which I prefer to be private."

She then recommended to other women in the forum to abort in the first trimester, warning of the emotional pain of a late-term abortion.

Napakasakit makita at mahawakan ang sarili mong anak na hindi mo binigyan ng tsansa mabuhay (It hurts so much to see and to hold your own child, whom you didn’t give a chance to live)." 

Unacceptable practices

When told of the testimonies on the forum and Rappler’s findings, a medical doctor familiar with induced abortions in the Philippines expressed shock and dismay. The medical doctor who believes in the need for safe abortion options, agreed to speak to Rappler on condition of anonymity. 

The advertisements alone, the doctor said, is worrisome.

“The D&C procedure is scary even for medical doctors,” said the source, adding that this requires training and just the right amount of pressure so as to not damage the cervix or perforate the bladder.

D&C is a surgical procedure wherein the cervix is dilated or widened, to allow an instrument to be inserted into the uterus. The curettage then involves the scraping of the uterine lining to remove tissue developed during pregnancy, to induce the abortion.

WHO does not recommend D&C as a method of surgical abortion – especially because medical, non-surgical abortions are now an option, and because there are higher risks of complications.

"D&C is an obsolete method of surgical abortion and should be replaced by vacuum aspiration and/or medical methods," the WHO said in its policy guidelines for safe abortions.

The WHO also denounces the catheter procedures offered by Miss Shine and Miss Julie.

"Unsafe abortion procedures may involve insertion of an object or substance (root, twig or catheter or traditional concoction) into the uterus; dilation and curettage performed incorrectly by an unskilled provider; ingestion of harmful substances; and application of external force," it said in the same document, essentially describing the procedures used by the abortionists in the forum.

Rappler's source echoed WHO's guidelines, adding that keeping any sort of object, like a catheter, in a woman's vagina for hours to induce abortion is "unacceptable and makes the woman prone to infection."

The doctor was also concerned that women are not permitted to bring a companion during the procedure, emphasizing the necessity for a woman undergoing abortion to have emotional and mental support.

The posts on the forum support the source's observation: many of the women reach out to each other online to try to schedule their abortions on the same day, just so that they can get some sort of support, even if it's from strangers.

Additionally, the doctor highlighted the need for "intensive counseling and check-up" before and after abortion, both of which did not appear to be a consistent offering by Miss Julie or Miss Shine based on the testimonies.

But what struck Rappler’s source the most is the willingness of Miss Julie and Miss Shine to abort fetuses in their final trimester, up to 7 months old, or just two months from being full-term – especially with the methods used.

Even in countries with liberal abortion laws, like Canada, the United States, Singapore, and the Netherlands, abortions are available for up to 24 weeks maximum, or about 5 months, barring medical necessity. 

“My colleagues and I have been able to bring a 5-month old premature baby to full term with the help of technology,” the source said. “What more if the baby is 7 months?” – Rappler.com