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At Least 140 Women Get Pregnant Due to Glitch in Birth Control Packaging

How could this happen?

Apparently, at least 140 unintended pregnancies occurred in Chile last year after an oral contraceptive provided by the public health care system was found to be “potentially ineffective” due to an issue with the packaging.

When the Chilean government realized the issue, they chose to recall the 276,890 packets as quietly as possible, causing many women to continue to use the product without realizing that they were possibly defective. Reproductive activists believe that nearly 150 women have experienced unplanned pregnancies as a direct result of the government’s inadequate handling of the situation.

“We’ve never seen such a systemic failure, that lasted as long as the case in Chile, with such severe consequences,” Paula Ávila-Guillén, the executive director of Women’s Equality Center, told The New York Times.

The daily birth control pills were packaged much like other birth control pills — with a pill for each day of the month, with a week of “placebo” pills in which a woman gets her period. The pills must be taken daily, and while the placebo pills don’t need to be taken, they help women keep an eye on what day of their birth control cycle they are on. Taking a placebo pill or an active pill on a wrong day could make birth control ineffective and lead to an unplanned pregnancy. Apparently, during the manufacturing process, a production glitch caused placebo pills to shift into the active day slots, resulting in empty cavities in the pill packaging and wrongly-placed active and placebo bills during the sealing process. Yeah, this is a huge deal.

Rumors about Anulette CD, the birth control pills being distributed by the Chilean government, being defective first began to circulate last March. Miles, a reproductive rights organization in Chile, submitted a formal inquiry to the government, and by August, the pills had been recalled, as it had been discovered that an undetermined number of packages had placebo pills placed in active slots, and vice versa.

However, the recall has been heavily criticized as ineffective, with the government making no clear plan to reach out to anyone who had received the pills, along with the recall being announced on a rarely-visited government website. The result, critics claim, is over 100 women getting pregnant despite believing they were using birth control safely. This means many women became pregnant (in a country that doesn’t even have legal abortions) while using birth control. The failure to notify those taking birth control over the glitch could have subjected many women to become parents even when they didn’t want to, or weren’t prepared in any way to be.

The current debacle comes at a time when Chile is one of several Latin American countries having larger cultural discussions about reproductive rights and how much autonomy a woman should have over their own body. This year, Chile introduced a bill that would decriminalize abortions, with the hope that the procedure would eventually be legalized.

Chile is also in the midst of a government overhaul, with a new assembly being elected in April who will then draft a new Constitution. And in November, a new president and congress will be selected.