Armenian doctors have this month banned the sale of stomach ulcer drug Cytotec without a prescription in a hope to stop the drug being used during at-home abortions.
Cytotec is often used by pregnant women to cause miscarriages when official medical abortions prove too expensive. The Ministry of Health for Armenia stated that misuse of the drug can lead to various harmful side effects such as anemia, hemorrhaging and even death and that an immediate ban on over-the-top sales would begin from August 1st.
Cytotec costs about 200 dram per tablet and at-home abortions using the drug are estimated to be around 100 times cheaper than hospital abortions.
Armenia legalized abortion in 1955 under Soviet rule which led to an improvement in maternal death rates caused by birth complications. Although abortions remain a fairly easy process in Armenia many pregnant women are unable to pay the hospital fees required and are forced in homemade alternatives.
Gender-based abortions are also a widespread problem in the largely patriarchal culture of Armenia. Many women and families are unwilling to raise a girl and seek to terminate the pregnancy when the gender is identified. Many abortions in cases like this are not often sanctioned by doctors and so women instead choose to seek out alternative methods.
In 2013 the Economist reported on an increase in the level of gender-based abortion in the Caucasus. In Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan the preference to raise a son has led to countless abortions of unwanted girls. In Georgia around 120 boys were born per 100 girls, a number that is predicted to worsen across the South Caucasus.
Although contraceptives are available in Armenia they are not widely used. Many people fail to use adequate contraception due to economic, culture or religious reasons and unwanted pregnancies in young women are a common problem.
In 2009 it was estimated that around 23% of pregnancies in Armenia ended in an abortion.
Despite the new ban it has also been reported that some pharmacists are still offering the drug free of percription. Journalists from EurasiaNet.org reported that nine pharmacies visited by them sold Cytotec without a prescription.
These reports have indicated that although the practice of selling the drugs in this manner is now illegal that the practice will remain. Doctors and pharmacists also reported a large increase in sales of Cytotec leading up to the ban, making it likely that illicit traders of the drug have been stockpiling in order to continue supplying women searching for cheaper abortions.