Proxy surveys on abortions in rural and urban areas as well as online search trends show there is a hidden high demand for self-induced abortion. This comes in light of laws that restrict abortion unless on medical grounds.
However, scientific improvements and unregulated availability of medical termination of pregnancy medications online and off-the counter without prescription is now making it easier for women to take matters into their own hands.
Google search results indicate that more and Kenyans are scouring the Internet for ways to self-induce abortions. These could be through using herbal abortifacients without training, purchasing abortion-inducing medication online, in local chemists or across the border.
Some even resort to one of the most horrifying methods of terminating a pregnancy — coat hanger abortions.
In 2015/16, there has been a significant increase in searches for phrases like “buy abortion pills online” in addition to tens of thousands of searches relating to herbal abortion methods such as strong tea, vitamin C or parsley.
There were also hundreds of searches for more dangerous ways of ending a pregnancy, such as how to bleach one’s uterus, or whether punching a woman in the stomach will lead to miscarriage.
And if the Google searches are any indication, the way they are doing it is scary. Of course, we cannot know from Google searches how many women successfully give themselves abortions, but evidence suggests a significant number may.
Medical abortion has the potential to contribute to reduced maternal mortality but little is known about the provision or quality of advice for medical abortion through the private retail sector and self-referred sales.
There is no local research data, except from individual informants. Therefore, from a research angle, it may be worthwhile to use undercover patients who present themselves unannounced as genuine customers seeking a medical abortion and determine the current trends.
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