With the break-up of the Hajar Raissouni case, the debate about clandestine abortion and the importance of legalizing it was revived. TelQuel collected testimonies from three Moroccan women who used abortion illegally. Between worry and suffering, they tell of this painful passage in their lives.
Protesters denounce the fate of Hajar Raissouni, a journalist charged with illegal abortion, in front of the Rabat court on 9 September. Her trial has been postponed to September 16. Photo Fadel Senna, AFP
From 600 to 800 is the number of abortions performed every day in Morocco according to the Moroccan Association to Combat Illegal Abortion. Faced with a law that only allows abortion in extreme cases, hundreds of them use their right to dispose of their bodies every day in the most illegal way.
Hundreds of cases but just as many stories, sometimes dramatic. While the case of Hajar Raissouni, accused of having an illegal abortion, is on the front page of the national press and is the subject of legal proceedings initiated in early September, TelQuel has gathered the testimony of three Moroccan women who have agreed to tell their painful experiences with illegal abortion. We also solicited an intermediary selling abortion drugs to these women who wanted to voluntarily terminate their pregnancy.
"200,000 backstreet abortions per year", "My mother is 16, my father is my is my grand-father": , Demonstration against the abortion law, in Rabat, on 25 June 2019. Photos AFP
Ghalia* was 23 years old when she became aware of her pregnancy during a simple consultation with the doctor. Fearing a negative reaction from her family, she decided to have an abortion. "My partner and I were not married and our families were never going to accept a child born out of wedlock... I was going to go through hell keeping this child," explains the young MarrakSHI, now 25 years old.
To end her pregnancy, the young woman seeks the help of friends who connect her with a male nurse. The man acts as an intermediary who, for a payment of 500 dirhams [=€45, $51], introduces her to a gynaecologist. He estimates the cost of the operation at 4,000 dirhams [=€ 370, $410], a sum she manages to raise with the help of her boyfriend. Once at the gynaecologist's office, Ghalia eventually performed an aspiration abortion. "When I opened my eyes, I started crying," remembers the young woman.
Stories of clandestine abortions are repeated but are not alike. In Rabat, Leila* also resorted to abortion following an unwanted pregnancy. She was 24 years old when a second pink line appeared on her pregnancy test. Being just at the start of her career, Leila is pregnant with twins. Her pregnancy was the result of an episodic relationship.
Lost, she sought the help of an association helping women in her situation who managed to put her in contact with a gynaecologist. Known as a specialist in abortion, he charges 3,500 dirhams for the procedure. Except that a month after this abortion, things go wrong for Leila, who is constantly suffering from haemorrhaging. "The bleeding lasted for a month. It was horrible, I've never felt so much pain in my life," she says, with a hoarse voice. It was only after treatment that the young woman was able to resume a "normal" life.
According to article 453 of the Moroccan Penal Code, abortion is punishable by six months to two years in prison for any woman who performs abortion, so the two young women violated the law by using this intervention. However, it was not the unlawful nature of the offence they feared.
For Leila, it is the fear of regretting her decision that torments her. "I am not afraid of illegality, since there are many women who have abortions every day in Morocco, I am rather afraid of not having the chance to have twins in the future," she says. Ghalia, on the other hand, is especially afraid of her parents' reaction. "I can't even imagine what they could do if they knew," she admits.
The same fear was felt by Kaltoum* who, at 21, became pregnant with her boyfriend. Lacking resources and support, she despairs and turns to traditional methods to terminate her pregnancy: a mixture of abortion herbs and medicines bought on the black market. "I couldn't afford it, so I was looking for the cheapest, most effective and least dangerous solution," she says, a few months after the facts.
Through one of her acquaintances, she learned about the existence of the Artotec. This drug, used to treat joint disorders and rheumatism, has abortifacient properties. It contains prostaglandin, a molecule that protects the stomach, but at the same time causes the uterus to contract.
However, the drug is prohibited for sale on national territory and its use requires medical assistance. Kaltoum managed to obtain, in exchange for 1,000 dirhams, 10 tablets of the drug. But it has no effect. After a few days, the young woman realized that the tablets in question were fake.
The situation in Kaltoum worries one of her friends who manages to raise the 2,800 dirhams needed to finance her abortion in a gynaecological practice in Casablanca. But after the operation, the young woman suffers from acute bleeding and discovers, to her great surprise, that the fetus was not completely removed during the operation. "Fortunately, the rest evacuated on its own... I was told that the situation could be much more dangerous if it hadn't happened," she says.
A coveted Artotec
Like Kaltoum, many women who want to have an abortion use Artotec. Although it has been withdrawn from the market since 2016, the drug can easily be purchased through some Facebook or WhatsApp groups. " Artotec is available but it is very expensive. The box was normally sold for 100 dirhams in pharmacies, now a single tablet is worth nearly 100 dirhams," says the young woman.
A simple search on Mark Zuckerberg's social network is all it takes to find dozens of pages whose administrators claim they can sell the contraceptive pill. On one of them, some posts are edifying. In particular, there are screenshots of exchanges on WhatsApp where "satisfied" customers publish graphic photos showing the effects of the drug.
Contacted by TelQuel, the owner of the page claims to sell a pack of 10 pills, nicknamed "Samta" (the belt), for the sum of 1,000 dirhams. He also proposes to administer contraceptive "injections", "more effective" according to him , at 1,500 dirhams.
According to a recent prosecutor's report, 73 people were prosecuted for abortion in Morocco in 2018. At the beginning of the parliamentary re-opening, a draft law initiated in 2015 to authorize abortions in cases of rape or incest, prenatal malformations or maternal mental illness should be discussed in parliament.
*The first names of the persons mentioned in this article have been changed in order to preserve their anonymity.
Demonstration in Tetouan in October 2012 against the Aurora boat chartered by a Dutch women's organization, Women on Waves, to perform abortions in international waters. Having set sail for Morocco after Ireland, Portugal and Spain, they were refused landing there.