“Sometimes if they would start bleeding, and doctors [illegally performing the abortion] wouldn’t have blood or some necessary things with them. They couldn’t bring it from the hospitals because it was a secret that they were providing abortions. So they couldn’t help these women,” she recalls.
“One of my best friends had 38 abortions. But she always managed to do it in the hospital under the proper care because she had contacts. I’m so happy she survived.”
Data on abortion-related deaths in Georgia was not available on the state statistics agency website.
Gynecologist Khatuna Sokhadze notes that today, the most common way to end a pregnancy is to take pills. Women often take them without consulting a physician, however, which is dangerous. Instead of taking just one pill—already a potent dose—some take several, Dr. Sokhadze notes.
She notes that frequently when women come to her after unsuccessfully trying to end their pregnancies at home.
Dr. Sokhadze adds that ideally, people will start using contraceptives more frequently, which would reduce the need for abortions—and the chance women will harm themselves attempting to end pregnancies at home.
But that requires education and access to contraceptives, which have traditionally been unpopular in Georgia.
65-year-old Naira (not her real name) ended up having 13 abortions after barely surviving her first pregnancy.
“Abortion isn’t good. There is a feeling that you ended a life and the terrible feeling of guilt. But I felt so bad during my pregnancies that there was no other way. I was afraid I wouldn't survive,” she says.
“There were ways to have an abortion while asleep, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t wake up... So I used to use local anesthesia. I was so stressed during the pregnancy that I felt relieved as soon as I was on the table, despite the physical pain, just knowing that I wasn’t pregnant anymore.”
Naira eventually learned about birth control pills but she says the stigma against using them—the idea that you were actively trying not to have more children—made them unpopular.
“I took them occasionally, but I got pregnant anyway. To take the pills wasn’t acceptable for Georgians. And you couldn’t buy them without feeling you were judged, which would make you feel ashamed.”
Lia agrees that while contraceptives were available during the Soviet Union—they were even supplied free of charge—they were imported, which made people think they were bad, and as a rule, women did not use them.
“You know when you use these folk methods, you don’t really think about death…and of course you couldn’t give birth every time you got pregnant,” Lia notes.
“During my time those pills were free… We used to believe that these pills were bad. Like when we were kids and we were not allowed to take chewing gum from the foreigners, as it was [believed to be] poisonous. Just as we believed that anything given to us by foreigners would be poisoned, we used to believe that these pills were bad.”
Men, as Lia recalls, were more likely to use them when they had affairs, to avoid the “headache” of unwanted pregnancies out of wedlock.
Instead, some women turn to folk remedies to avoid getting pregnant. One 58-year-woman advised putting a slice of lemon in one’s vagina before sex.
“If you put the lemon in before sex, the sperm will not stay there,” Lamara says (name is changed).