Alejandra Elizabeth Marks

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Tulane U.

Grant number

Gr. 10134

Approve Date

April 8, 2021

Project Title

Marks, Alejandra (Tulane U.) "When Abortion Pills Travel: Self-Managed Abortion in Havana and Bahia"

ALEJANDRA MARKS, then a graduate student at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, was awarded a grant in April 2021 to aid research on “When Abortion Pills Travel: Self-Managed Abortion in Havana and Bahia,” supervised by Dr. Adeline Maquelier. Pharmaceuticals have been theorized as symbolically “potent” objects whose capacity to affect consumers extends well beyond their immediate chemical effects. This research project has aimed to understand how the drug misoprostol, originally developed as a treatment for gastric ulcers, is changing the meaning of abortion by allowing women to terminate unwanted pregnancies privately. Emerging first as an informal abortion method in the 1990s in Brazil, where abortion is penalized, the drug first entered clinical life in Latin America as an abortifacient when it was officially adopted for this purpose in Cuba in 1997. Today, the different modes through which misoprostol is distributed in the two countries cast abortion as a practice that sits uneasily between crime and care, between marginal practice and sanctioned procedure. This project investigated the embodied experiences of women as they turned to clinicians in Havana or unlicensed sellers in Salvador da Bahia to obtain misoprostol. In Havana, medication abortion afforded women greater privacy and autonomy over their procedures. In Bahia, black-market misoprostol has reshaped reproductive care. Bahian women collectively and individually defied the limitations put on their lives and bodies by the Brazilian state by managing their abortions with the help of underground activists.