"It is just like having a period with back pain": exploring women's experiences with community-based distribution of misoprostol for early abortion on the Thailand-Burma border

Contraception. 2018 Feb;97(2):122-129. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2017.06.015. Epub 2017 Aug 3.


Introduction: The lack of economic development and longstanding conflict in Burma have led to mass population displacement. Unintended pregnancy and unsafe abortion are common and contribute to maternal death and disability. In 2011, stakeholders operating along the Thailand-Burma border established a community-based distribution program of misoprostol for early abortion, with the aim of providing safe and free abortion care in this low-resource and legally restricted setting.

Methods: We conducted 16 in-depth, in-person interviews with women from Burma residing on both sides of the border who accessed misoprostol through the community-based distribution initiative. We analyzed interviews for content and themes using deductive and inductive methods.

Results: Overall, women felt positively about their abortion experiences and the initiative. Previous abortion experiences and the recommendations of others shaped women's access. All participants, including those who remained pregnant after taking the misoprostol, would recommend the initiative to others.

Conclusion: Community-based distribution of misoprostol is an effective and culturally appropriate method of improving safe abortion care on the Thailand-Burma border. Supporting efforts to expand the harm reduction program to more communities and provide regular reproductive health and safe abortion trainings appears warranted.

Implications: In recent years, a number of organizations have launched programs dedicated to misoprostol-alone for early abortion. However, few have documented the experiences and perspectives of women. Our findings indicate providing misoprostol through lay provision in a legally restricted context is not only safe and effective but also culturally resonant.

Keywords: Abortion; Migrant; Misoprostol; Myanmar; Refugee; Reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortifacient Agents, Nonsteroidal / adverse effects*
  • Abortion, Induced / methods
  • Abortion, Induced / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Back Pain / chemically induced*
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menstruation / psychology
  • Middle Aged
  • Misoprostol / adverse effects*
  • Myanmar
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / psychology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Qualitative Research
  • Thailand


  • Abortifacient Agents, Nonsteroidal
  • Misoprostol