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Defective Birth Control Leads To 170 Pregnancies In Chile, Called 'Systemic Failure'

At least 170 women have become pregnant while regularly taking a defective oral contraceptive Chile's public health authority had allegedly failed to fully recall.

by Morgan Brinlee

Nearly two hundred women across Chile have said they unexpectedly became pregnant despite regularly taking a prescribed oral contraceptive. Unbeknownst to them, however, that contraceptive had been quietly recalled by Chile’s public health authority due to potential defects. But because the recall wasn’t properly communicated, many users continued to take them assuming it was safe and effective. For some 170 women, it wasn’t.

At least 170 women taking Anulette CD, an oral contraceptive made by the Silesia subsidiary of the German pharmaceutical company Grünenthal, claim to have become unintentionally pregnant despite regularly taking the pill as instructed, CNN has reported. Thanks to Chile’s strict laws on abortion — the Center for Reproductive Rights has noted abortion is only legal in Chile in situations of life-endangerment, rape, and fatal fetal impairments — the women have few options but to carry their unintended pregnancies to term despite the very real impact these pregnancies could have on their lives.

Reproductive rights advocates have described the situation as “a systemic failure” in comments to the New York Times. “We’ve never seen such a systemic failure, that lasted as long as the case in Chile, with such severe consequences,” the paper reported Women’s Equality Center Executive Director Paula Ávila-Guillén said.

Frustrated that neither the government nor the manufacturer behind the birth control pills have taken responsibility for the mistake and offered help, CNN reported the women have joined together to file a class-action lawsuit with the help of Corporación Miles, a sexual and reproductive rights group.

A batch of 139,160 packets of Anulette CD were recalled by the Instituto de Salud Pública de Chile (ISP), Chile's public health authority, on August 24. According to the recall, some packets of the birth control pills had been found to have been packaged wrong. Placebo pills generally taken during menstruation were packaged in slots meant for active pills that contain hormones that safely stop ovulation and vice versa. Within two weeks a second recall was issued, this time for another 137,730 Anulette CD packets reported to have missing or crushed pills.

But neither recall was well publicized. According to The Rio Times, ISP tweeted an alert about the recall and posted the recall notice on its website. But few citizens actively check the public health agency’s website or Twitter account, making it easy to have missed news of the recall. No press conference or national outreach campaign was organized to connect with the health centers or patients that had been directed to use Anulette CD.

For the women who claim to have become pregnant while taking the contraceptive, however, that lack of communication has resulted in very real consequences. “It was very hard to come to terms with the pregnancy,” 37-year-old Marlisett Guisel Rain Rain, who already had three children and was in the process of attending college and separating from her husband when she learned she was pregnant, told the New York Times. “I don’t think people grasp how hard it is to be a mother for a woman who is not ready. You have to rebuild yourself completely.”

While Silesia, the laboratory that manufactured Anulette CD, and the Chilean government have each shifted blame for the situation to the other, the 170 women slated to be represented by Corporación Miles in a class-action lawsuit feel both parties are to blame.

“Neither the laboratory nor the state has given a sufficient answer,” another one of the women, who asked to be identified only as Yasna, told VICE News. “I don't know if there could be a solution to the pregnancies that are taking place, beyond perhaps some compensation. A son or daughter is there for life.”