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Health Officials Say Women Using Cocaine to Cause Abortions

June 29, 1989

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Women once used hangers to end unwanted pregnancies. Now, health officials say a few desperate women are using cocaine to induce abortions.

The National Association for Perinatal Addiction Research and Education has heard of cocaine-induced abortions in every major U.S. city during the last three years, said Ira Chasnoff, president of the Chicago-based organization.

″It’s probably cheaper, faster and more efficient to do it themselves″ rather than seek an abortion in a clinic, he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.

Doctors say cocaine-induced abortions can cause heavy bleeding in the mother, and children who survive have a higher risk of retardation and other problems because the drug can cut off the blood supply to the fetus.

The group keeps no statistics on cocaine-induced abortions, but officials in Miami and Detroit say scattered cases of women who used large doses of cocaine to end pregnancies are showing up in emergency rooms as miscarriage patients.

″If you pin down some of them and ask questions, you will find some are using it as an abortifacient,″ said Dr. Gene Burkette, medical director of the obstetrical and gynecology clinic at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami.

Even though abortion has been legal since 1973, Burkette said several factors cause women to attempt to induce abortion themselves.

″Some might not be able to afford it and some may figure, ’Why waste the money when you can use it to buy cocaine?‴ he said.

″It shouldn’t be surprising I guess that desperate women will try anything available to them,″ said Raj Wiener, acting director of the Michigan Department of Public Health.

At least one patient at a Detroit drug-treatment program for pregnant women deliberately increased her drug use after discovering she was pregnant, according to Dr. Rhonda Beale, clinical director at the Eleanor Hutzel Recovery Center.

″One woman talked about at the beginning of the pregnancy she started taking more and more coke,″ said Beale, a psychiatrist.

″She didn’t want to deal with the reality of pregnancy, she wanted to be rid of the pregnancy. She was happy (when she miscarried) because she didn’t want the baby anyway.″

Other women tire of being pregnant and use the drug to prompt early labor and ensure a less painful delivery, Burkette said.

″The pregnancy is interfering with their lifestyle. The heavy weight is interfering with something that they want to do. Women often get a little impatient in the last three months of pregnancy. Most normal women are willing to wait it out. These women do not have that sort of resiliency. They want to deliver early and painlessly,″ he said.

Between 1 and 2 percent of the 15,000 women who deliver at Jackson Memorial each year have used cocaine to cause premature labor and relieve pain, he estimated. Not all of the babies die.

Chasnoff, an expert on cocaine addiction and pregnancy, said the drug causes blood vessels to constrict, cutting off blood supply to the fetus, and stimulates the pregnant uterus to contract.

″It’s a setup for pregnancy failure,″ he said.

Dr. Charles Vincent, chief of gynecology at Detroit Receiving Hospital, has yet to see a case of cocaine-induced abortion. But he said that will change if restrictions on abortion, such as a new Michigan law banning state-paid abortions for poor women, multiply.

″If they find out that it works, particularly with the ridiculous state law that bans Medicaid abortions, I think we’re going to find a lot of women trying it. You get a desperate teen-ager, they will try almost anything,″ he said.

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