Find in Blog
The Cost of Making a Decision: An Abortion Story in Venezuela
"I found out I was pregnant, and I didn't want to bring a child into the world like this—unemployed, with no income, and not being sure about it. I feel that a child doesn't deserve that.”
This could be anyone's story: Andrea, Laura, Mary, or Silvia. It’s the story of a woman who is a lawyer, a bodega cashier, a professor, or even your sister. It's the story of any woman who lives in a country where abortion is illegal or inaccessible.
In this case, that country is Venezuela—because that's where a woman can only choose to have an abortion if a pregnancy puts her life at risk. That is, only if she's about to die. And the heroine of our story will be called Diana—because in Venezuela, this would be the story of a crime.
Diana found out she was pregnant when she was 22 years old, an event that offered her the opportunity to learn a few other things as well—like that she wasn't her partner’s only girlfriend and that many women at her university knew about "a doctor out there who can do it." (By 'it', they meant an abortion.) The phone numbers of these doctors are secret, almost like contraband, but they are passed around in the world of young people in Venezuela. So began Diana's journey to terminate her pregnancy. It was a decision that wasn’t easy—and isn’t for many women.
"We got to a place far away in San Antonio. The place wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t the most hygienic in the world, either," said Diana. "You knew from the start that the doctor wasn’t actually a doctor at all. But what else could I do? That was all I could pay by collecting and borrowing money from my friends. That day, I told my mom I was studying at a friend's house.”
What followed was two months of going to hospitals, missing classes, and hiding bloodstained clothes. "I didn’t want my mom to know about it," Diana explained. "What would she say? That I was a murderer?"
This is one of the harshest realities that women have to face: putting themselves in the hands of unqualified medical personnel and getting rejected from hospitals and healthcare centers because they are considered criminals. A woman who has an abortion in Venezuela is an outcast from the health system. She undergoes unsafe and unsanitary procedures that can involve anything from coat hangers to vacuum cleaners, contaminated surgical equipment, and a long list of etceteras fitting the precariousness of a woman who seeks an abortion there.
"They would give me a bag of serum, and when it was over they sent me home," Diana said. "The nurses treated me badly; they said I deserved it. At my university, I couldn't provide medical records to justify my absence from class, because anyone who knew could report me—and is even obligated. I study law, so I imagined presenting all this evidence in a law school."
When abortion is considered a crime, there are major barriers to women seeking counseling or post-abortion services. This can result in an inadequate recovery or permanent physical damages due to unsafe procedures. Criminalizing abortion does not prevent it from happening; it just makes abortion dangerous.
After seven weeks of cramping, bleeding, and pain, Diana was able to get medical attention. She suffered a hemorrhage at her university just before a midterm exam and received care at a clinic, where she hoped no one would find out. Two things were at risk: the doctor's license and Diana’s health.
Diana eventually recovered and is in her final year of law school. But there are times she thinks about what her life would have been like if she had decided to continue the pregnancy. Her story leaves me to wonder why it is necessary for women like Diana to go through all this?
Many consider Diana's choice to be the "easy way out," and others believe she is a coward. But it's the only way you're given when your country doesn’t provide access to abortion that is safe, legal, and accessible. It's what you're left with when you can’t make a legal decision about your own body unless you're about to die.
Génesis Luigi is a psychology student at Central University of Venezuela. She is passionate about sexual and reproductive health issues and volunteers with our Member Association in Venezuela, PLAFAM.