JOHANNESBURG- In an alarming, yet relatively unknown trend, some pregnant South African women are secretly given dangerous drugs by their lovers and partners. These pills, bought on the black market from unscrupulous doctors or people with access to the schedule 4 drug, kill the baby and could potentially cause the unknowing mother to bleed to death.
Pregnancy and children are supposed to bring joy to a relationship and home but for many women, this has turned to a source of pain. Thelma Mudau* (not her real name) was excited to be welcoming her third child into the world and shared the news with her husband but he was not.
Her life of deception and lies started unravelling three years into her marriage.
“First it was the finances and then it was the abortion pills. I found out three years into the marriage that my husband was in debt and was earning way less than he had initially disclosed,” she said.
Mudau said they have two children, the youngest being 5-years-old. Her husband did not want any more children and she said he reminded her of that when she fell pregnant last year. During that period, she was working but he was not, it was not an issue for her. She was filled with joy at the prospect of welcoming another bundle of joy into the world, but it was not the same for her partner.
That was when Mudau was given a pill called Misoprostol, better known in South Africa as Cytotec. The pill is used for many ailments, such as treating ulcers, but it is also used for abortions. The consequences can be deadly, as Mudau was soon to find out.
“He wouldn’t even come to the first ultrasound. Three months into the pregnancy, he apologised, said he was stressing about finances. One evening, we had sex and a few hours later I was in casualty with severe vaginal bleeding. I lost the baby,” she recounted.
“The doctor asked if I had drunk anything, that’s when I remembered that he prepared a drink for me before our sexual encounter,” she said.
Mudau is one of a host of women who have found themselves at the mercy of their lovers who did not want babies. The beans on these inhumane acts were spilt by Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl when she started #HeartBreakHotel. In it, she laid bare for the world to see the pain that many women endure at the hands of their partners.
? I am in shock pic.twitter.com/JlcrjH0sHG
— Sindisiwe van Zyl ?? ?? (@sindivanzyl) January 2, 2018
Another woman sent her a message: “Jan 2015, I was 11 weeks pregnant. Woke up that morning with heavy period like cramps and I felt pressed- went to the toilet to pee and it’s just thick, chunky blood clots that gushed out. My boyfriend rushed me to the emergency room, but it was too late. Took me into theatre for a DNC. When I eventually woke up the doctor asked me what medication I had drunk and put in my vagina. I just remembered taking a pain pill from this guy, my boyfriend. He denied having given me any tablets and accused me of not wanting the baby (Gaslighting was his thing, btw). I walked away that day.”
In another instance, a woman shared with Van Zyl that she told her boyfriend she was pregnant. He started drifting away, not taking her calls and finally disappeared into the abyss. A few weeks later, he was back. He called and said he was coming over. Thinking it was to reconcile, the woman agreed. He made her tea and after consuming it, they engaged in a heated sexual encounter. Oblivious to the real motive for his return, she did not question his absenteeism for all the weeks.
He left after the encounter. Hours later, she started experiencing abdominal pains and severe bleeding. When she was rushed to the hospital, it was confirmed that her baby had been killed. The boyfriend had allegedly put the pill in her tea and slipped others in her vagina.
Abortion is legal
All of this happens while abortion is legal in South Africa. The pill is a schedule 4 drug, meaning it can only be obtained with a prescription from a doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist. In South Africa misoprostol is registered for the treatment of prevention of NSAID (a group of anti-inflammatory drugs)-induced stomach ulcers, and treatment of existing stomach or duodenal ulcers.
Van Zyl said the dangers posed by the illegal use of the pill were great. She said the possibility of bleeding to death was real.
“A forced abortion could result in excessive bleeding and may lead to the woman having to have an emergency hysterectomy, or worse, it could result in her death. The pills are always used in a controlled environment. There is a place for their use – by a health professional that is trained in their use,” she said.
The prevalence of the drug in these illegal abortions has raised eyebrows regarding the conduct of doctors. According to a doctor speaking on condition of anonymity, certain individuals in the profession have been selling it on the black market. The doctor said they do so to make money and sometimes to help their own friends get out so-called “tricky situations”.
Black market trading
“Abortion has been legalised in South Africa and it can be done at any hospital. The problem is that there are those pharmacists and doctors who steal the pills from their places of employment and sell them on the black market. The accessibility of the pills depends on many factors. Some also get them from their doctor friends. The doctors steal the drugs and sell them to make money on the side and promote such despicable acts,” said the doctor.
Despite the women finding themselves in hospitals after consuming the pill, the Department of Health seems to be oblivious to the scourge. Popo Maja, Head of Communications at the National Department of Health said they have not had any reports of such happening.
He, however, encouraged those who have been victims to report the matter to the police. He further indicated that the availability of the drug was a call for major concern.
“If that is the case, those women need to go and open a case. A schedule 4 drug can only be prescribed by a well-qualified doctor and dispensed by a pharmacist. It is illegal to have that drug without a doctor’s prescription. Those men will have to account how they came across it,” he said.