Doctors use euphemisms like "treatment of abortion sickness" to advertise their services online.
Abortions are legal in Iran – but only if the woman can prove that giving birth would pose a health risk to herself or her child. So women who want to get abortions for other reasons have to seek out dangerous underground methods. This often takes them to an infamous street called Naser Khosrow in south Tehran.
Statistics from Iran’s Legal Medicine Office show that out of 6,656 petitions asking for permission to undergo abortions last year, only 4,000 of these were approved. Of course, these numbers are very low compared with the number of women who seek illegal abortions.
“It was not possible for me as an unwed woman to keep the baby”
Sara (not her real name), from Tehran, recently underwent an illegal abortion.
Not long ago, I realised I was five months pregnant from my boyfriend. Because of cultural expectations in Iran, it was not possible for me as an unwed woman to keep the baby. After talking to friends, I found out that there are three methods for getting an abortion: with injections, pills, or an operation.I considered the first two options. For the injections, I learned you need to buy a drug called Prostaglandin. I would have needed two injections, which cost 40,000 Toman each (about 12 euros). But I heard that there was a high risk of seizure, so I abandoned that idea.For pills, I learned I had to buy a certain type of pill called Misoprostol and take ten of them in one hour. This medicine is normally used to treat ulcers, and is available for about 8,000 Toman in pharmacies, but you need a doctor’s prescription, which I could not get. However, I heard they sold them in Naser Khosrow street, for 200,000 Toman (about 60 euros). I decided to try this method.
“I got scared that the pills might be counterfeit or past their expiration date”Naser Khorsow really isn’t suitable for a girl on her own. I had to go up to a guy on the street, who told me to pay upfront and he would go find the drugs and return in a little while. But all of a sudden I got scared that the pills might be counterfeit or past their expiration date, so I backed out and didn’t buy the pills.In the end, I decided to go see a doctor that I heard would help me. She told me I definitely needed an operation, because since this was my first pregnancy, there was a higher chance that the fetus might not completely get expelled from the womb, and cause complications.The doctor sent me to a clinic in southeast Tehran. It was very busy – there were lots of women waiting to get their hymens repaired or to get abortions. Two women worked there; at first, I thought they were doctors, but later I found out that they were just midwives. They told me I could get the procedure for two prices: 700,000 Toman (about 200 euros) without anesthesia or 1.5 million Toman with anesthesia. They explained that anesthesia drugs were expensive and had become hard to find. I was so scared that I asked them to put me under. The procedure went well, and I didn’t have any problems afterwards.
According to Tehran-based journalist Hamid Ja’fari, who has investigated the black market on Naser Khosrow Street, women who use the abortion drugs sold there regularly end up in the hospital due to complications. He says hospital staff admit them and complete the abortion via operation: “These days, whether it’s in a basement or in a doctor’s office, there is a lot of money to be made from abortions."