Your Worst Birth-Control Nightmare Happened In Peru

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pageIllustrated By Ly Ngo.
It’s been a rocky road for ladies lately (we’re looking at you, Mississippi). But, it’s also the two-year anniversary of 2012’s birth-control mandate, so even though there’s a lot of crappy stuff going on (ahem, Hobby Lobby) at least we still live in a country where deciding to take the morning-after pill isn’t like playing Russian roulette. Sadly, the same can’t be sad for much of the rest of the world — Peru, for example.

The country's Catholic roots made it slow to warm to regular contraception, much less Plan B. Now, it has some pretty suspicious stuff going on with women’s reproductive rights. A while back, the folks at Prosalud Inter Americana (a nonprofit organization that works to raise awareness about sexual health throughout South American countries) began to suspect something was up with emergency contraception coming through the pharmacies in Peru. So, they decided to do a little digging and sent pill samples to the U.S. for testing at the University of Nevada School of Medicine. What they found: One in four pills wasn’t actually emergency contraception at all. The levonorgestrel (which makes the morning-after pill work) was subbed out for cheap antibiotics. So, when women were heading to the pharmacy to pick up what they thought was protection against an unwanted pregnancy, 25% of the time they were being duped. You can check out the full story in all its gasp-inspiring detail here.

Sadly, Peruvian women aren’t the only ones ending up with fake medication. This is a widespread issue the world over, and particularly impacts developing nations. Counterfeit drugs make their way into medicine cabinets through cracks in the system, and — especially when pills go from one country to the next — it’s possible for paper trails to become so convoluted that regulators don’t notice when something’s up.

In Peru, a woman who takes a counterfeit morning-after pill could actually be in mortal peril; if she ends up becoming pregnant, she doesn't have the option of a legal, safe abortion. She has only two choices: to have a baby because of circumstances beyond her control, or to seek an illegal abortion — which would both make her a criminal and potentially put her life in danger.

In the U.S., however, you don’t generally have to worry that your Plan B isn’t what the package says (although, we don’t have a perfect track record on counterfeit meds, either). And, if you do get pregnant, and decide to have an abortion? So be it: The choice is yours, by the letter of the law. Here's hoping for a day when such options will be available for all women, everywhere.