In Morocco, women turn to booming online abortion pill market

OCTOBER 27, 2022

Moroccan abortion activists
Moroccan activists demonstrate after a 14-year-old girl died as a result of an unsafe secret abortion in the capital Rabat on September 28, 2022. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

While there are ongoing efforts to decriminalize abortion, will Filipino women turn to unsafe, unregulated practices like in Morocco?


Asmaa was terrified at the thought of giving birth again, but with abortion largely illegal in Morocco she turned to the thriving illicit online pills market to end her pregnancy.

The 37-year-old mother of one went on Facebook after her gynecologist told her about other women who had managed to get their hands on abortion pills through the platform.

There, on the social network’s Marketplace feature, she found anonymous users selling tablets containing misoprostol, a substance that induces uterine cramping and bleeding which remove the embryo or fetus.

“I was a little suspicious,” said Asmaa, who spoke to AFP 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 told AFP. “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.

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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.

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.


‘Ready to go to prison’

On Facebook, sellers ask for 1,500 to 2,000 Moroccan dirhams ($150 to $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 gynecologist who referred her to a doctor for surgical abortion costing 20,000 dirhams ($2,000) and a nurse who sells abortion pills for 5,000 dirhams ($500)—both well beyond the housewife’s means.

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

Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni
Moroccan journalist Hajar Raissouni flashes the victory sign upon leaving a prison in Sale near the capital Rabat on October 16, 2019. Raissouni who was sentenced to one year in jail for an “illegal abortion” and sexual relations outside marriage walked free on today, hours after being granted a royal pardon.
She was sentenced on September 30, along with her Sudanese fiance, a gynaecologist, anaesthetist and a medical assistant, whose convictions were also overturned, an official told AFP. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

“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 organization 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.


‘Dangerous situations’

Last week, Amnesty International called for the decriminalization 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 AFP’s 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.

Moroccan babies
Moroccan new born babies are attended on October 31, 2011 at Orangers maternity in Rabat. The United Nations says that by its best estimates the seven billionth baby will be born somewhere on October 31, and countries around the world have planned events surrounding the demographic milestone. (Photo by ABDELHAK SENNA / AFP)

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

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

Asmaa traveled over 700 kilometers (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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