By Patricia Nieto
SANTIAGO -- Estefany Cavieres, 28, is quite familiar with the signs of pregnancy. Your abdomen and your breasts hurt, you feel nauseous and tired. So, when she felt those feelings, she was sure: she was one of the 111 Chilean women who had gotten pregnant because of defective birth control pills.
"One day they called me from my medical center to tell me, there had been some birth control pills lots that were bad, but my pills didn't match those boxes and I wasn't worried," the young woman told EFE, adding she had been using birth control pills administered by public hospitals for about three months.
However, soon things took an unexpected turn, when she started noticing the signs of pregnancy. Due to pharmaceutical negligence her life plans to become a hair stylist and take care of her second three-year-old daughter, who has health problems, were thrown off track.
"The world was already too complicated to have more kids. And now I'm asking myself: What can I trust? It makes you furious because the system has left you in the lurch," said Cavieres, who three months into her unwanted pregnancy and the resulting depression, suffered an involuntary and spontaneous abortion.
Valentina Donoso, 21, touches her belly as she talks. She's been pregnant for six-and-a-half months, although she "was also using Anulette CD," a contraceptive distributed at many public health centers in Chile, where thousands of women from lower socio-economic groups receive their medications.
"Looking at myself in the mirror is hard. I see the belly and it reminds me of this nightmare. There are days when I get up feeling OK and want to have (the baby), but most of the time I don't," she said, adding she has had to put her plans to go to college on hold.
Between March and September 2020, the Public Health Institute (ISP), Chile's top pharmacological authority, warned that eight lots of six different birth control pills provided at public health centers were defective and ordered them withdrawn from use.
However, the institution then once again allowed the distribution of one of the brands - Anulette CD - just a week after it was withdrawn, saying the bad pills were visually detectable. More than 100 women have complained of unwanted pregnancies due to taking the supposedly unaffected Anulette CD, according to figures compiled by the Corporacion Miles.
ISP sources consulted by EFE said the institution "is (still) studying its stance and responsibility in the case."
"I wanted to be a mother, but a little later in life. I wanted to have a job and a house before this. I wanted to have a future," Donoso said, noting that she can only rely on her parents for economic support and lives in a vulnerable commune in southern Santiago.
The defective birth control lots were distributed all over the country and the affected women are to be found across the length and breadth of Chile, like Barbara Vazquez, 20, who also saw her studies in child education endangered when she learned she was pregnant.
"I don't have a job or anything stable to offer my baby. We need economic compensation. This expense is too much for my family," the student, who lives in Ņuble, in central Chile, told EFE.
Laura Dragnic, an attorney with Miles, says there are two parties who are responsible for this state of affairs: first, the laboratory that manufactured the meds and, second, the state for not monitoring their quality and for not taking care of the needs of the women who took the faulty pills and became pregnant.
"This constitutes a lack of service. There was no real support, it was something that the state tried to keep below the radar," the attorney told EFE.
"My midwife called me to tell me to stop taking Anulette and she warned me that I should buy other contraceptives on my own. We didn't know anything else," Soledad Castillo, a 35-year-old municipal worker who is in the fifth month of her pregnancy due to the faulty pills, told EFE.
Just like the other affected women, Donoso was denied the right to an abortion because pharmacological negligence specifically is not mentioned as one of the three allowed causes for obtaining a legal abortion in Chile: rape, inviability of the fetus or risk to the life of the mother.
Estefanny Molina, an attorney with Women's Link Worldwide, the entity that took the case to the United Nations and to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the situation is "a complete chain of violation of the sexual rights of Chilean women."
First, Molina said, because the state did not provide safe and effective family planning methods, next because these women were not allowed to have abortions and finally because the government did not offer financial protection to those who did not have the resources to pay for the procedure.
"Chile has a challenge before it. It's necessary for the concept of sexual health to be broadened and, of course, for the decriminalization of abortion to be reviewed,' she said.
Legal abortion is a long-standing demand of feminist groups in Latin America, where only Argentina, Cuba, Uruguay, Guyana, and in Mexico the capital and the state of Oaxaca allow the free and voluntary interruption of pregnancies.
Despite the fact that in Chile the complete ban on abortion was lifted in 2017 and more and more organizations are demanding the valid reasons to get one be expanded, that is still being discussed in Parliament.
"It cannot be that half the population in Chile is not covered because the state doesn't care about guaranteeing sexual and reproductive rights," Molina said.