14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 August 2018 — She is 20 years old and has had four abortions. This young Cuban woman, whom I will call Aimara to avoid revealing her identity, is not an isolated case. The interruption of pregnancy is so frequent among the Island’s women that is difficult to find one that has not gone through the procedure.
Our national context is different from what happens in other countries in the region. In some of them women can spend long years behind bars for resorting to such a procedure or simply because it is suspected that they have done so.
While in nations such as Chile and Argentina the debate inflames the streets and public forums, in Cuba a discussion on the subject barely registers on social networks or on the digital sites of the independent press.
According to official propaganda it is a “solved problem,” but within religious temples pastors sharpen their rhetoric against women who decide to abort. Meanwhile, in Cuban hospitals the practice has become almost as routine as having a tooth pulled. Abortion is considered one more method of contraception.
Mass access to medical services and the legalization of the interruption of pregnancy, despite decades of material deterioration in the Island’s public health services, contributes to saving maternal lives because women are not forced to resort to quacks or improvised clinics.
In 2016, 85,445 of these interventions were carried out in Cuban hospitals, representing 41.9 interruptions per 100 pregnant women, according to official figures.
A good part of these patients came to the hospital operating table moved by economic precariousness, but also by the helplessness resulting from little family support or the indifference of their partner. Strict gender roles and the prevailing machismo continue to place what should be a shared responsibility on the shoulders of women.
This is the case for Aimara, who, living “in a house overflowing with people and lacking in space,” as she herself says, doesn’t want to “give birth with an abusive husband and much less in Cuba as things are.” Right now, she has made the rounds of a dozen pharmacies in Havana and “there are no condoms,” the employees tell her, with resignation.
Maintaining a supply of birth control pills is also difficult and the last intrauterine device that the young woman had inserted “did more harm than good,” she says.
If, on the one hand, Cuban women claim the decision about what happens inside their wombs, on the other they find in interruptions of pregnancy — the so-called “curettage” (scraping of the uterus) and “menstrual regulations” (practiced before 6 weeks and without anesthesia) — a solution to the shortage of contraceptive methods, the chronic economic crisis and the desire to emigrate, which is complicated if there is a child included in the escape plan.
“Getting a visa is difficult for one person, imagine for two,” says Aimara, with a crushing logic. Her way of thinking is widespread. The housing difficulties, in a country with around 11 million people a deficit of more than 800,000 homes, and the desire to settle in any other geography, are some of the most important motivations that have led to the fall in the birth rate that has set off alarm bells on the Island.
In addition, repeated abortion, which is so frequent in Cuba, multiplies the dangers to women’s health and in many cases causes cervical problems and infertility. Aimara now traverses that dangerous tightrope. She has the legal and medical right to what happens in the small perimeter of her uterus, but her life and that of her future children are at the mercy of greater forces, especially at the whims of what a group of gentlemen without ovaries decide in an air conditioned office surrounded by creature comforts.
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