Malaysian authorities have been urged to tighten screening of the availability of medicines and pills on the internet. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr. S. Subramaniam said sometimes purchases of illegal pills escape customs checking because it comes in small quantities.

He warned those who purchased medicines and pills without a doctor's prescription that an investigation on the issue is ongoing and action will be taken accordingly.

"That is the shortcoming that needs to be addressed. The authorities need to tighten the screening process," he added, "It is a loophole in the system where there is no tight screening for supplies that come in small quantities."

Abortion pills readily available on social media

This comes after women who consumed abortion pills shared their successful abortion stories with their sellers via images of aborted foetuses on social media such as WeChat and WhatsApp.

In screenshots of conversations between seller and consumer, pictures of visibly bloodied foetuses - some almost fully formed - are shared accompanied by questions such as "What should I do?" after termination of their pregnancies.

On one screenshot, a seller explains that the price of the pills depend on the term of pregnancy - the later the abortion, the higher the price.

"Two months, eight pills, RM470, 10 pills to heal the genitalia," the seller wrote. The post was shared on Facebook on 9 January and received more than 48,000 shares.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were reportedly the most common sites where abortion pills were marketed to desperate women due to financial constraints or those who wanted to keep their pregnancies secret.

MOH vows to take action against those involved

Last month, the ministry stepped up investigations into the abortion kits that were being sold at triple of the actual cost to desperate women.

"This should not happen. Pills are supposed to be prescribed by doctors. So if such online transactions are being done in Malaysia, it won't be long before they are caught," said Dr. Subramaniam.

"Authorities can trace them and take immediate action. It is an offence to do this and offenders face a fine and jail term. The pills are definitely not supplied in local hospitals," he added.

Among the more popular was "Pil Gugur Berkesan" (Effective Abortion Pill) that has been promoting its products on Instagram and doing business over WhatsApp. One seller, who was known as 'A' said most of their company's clients comprised young unmarried couples.

'A' explained that once an order was made, the medicines were obtained from a doctor at a private clinic who handled the sales. 'A' also said that this method was popular as most of their clients were from the lower income bracket and going to private clinics to perform abortions was not an option due to its cost and the uninvited questions as they are often not married.

Two abortion pills are usually offered - Cytotec and Misoprostol - sold at RM350 for a dozen pills and liquid washes to be used after the abortion. The sellers also offer "advice and consultation" to their clients, to guide them through the process as well as other "supporting medicines' such as pain killers, drugs to control blood pressure and diarrhoea pills.

Implement sex education and make birth control pills available

Tengku Jaafar Hospital gynaecologist Dr. Krishna Kumar said that the two pills have been misused as they were initially prescribed for gastritis before it was discovered that it could induce abortions. He also urged that these pills should be controlled as they were dangerous and could be fatal if misused without prior advice from a qualified doctor. Pregnant mothers were given the pills, but only in special cases and only if they were less than three months pregnant and needed to abort the baby for health reasons.

Krishna said the wide sale of such pills on social media was "worrying", as the government had failed to block such sites from operating, but also said that those involved will keep coming up with new names and continue sales, despite being legally punished.

"I feel the government should introduce sex education in schools," he said. He also suggested birth control pills to be readily made available to both married and single individuals as it would eliminate the necessity for abortions.

"But our nation, given its social conditions, will not be able to accept this. This makes it harder for us to handle such situations," he added. MIMS

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