Abortion is a taboo subject in South Africa, with all of the associated stigmas.
It is interesting to note that one of the first new bills that was passed in post-apartheid South Africa was the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act 1996.
Pretty impressive that the government of the day recognised and prioritised sexual and reproductive health, creating one of the most progressive abortion laws in the world. Simply put, the act states that there is a duty on the department of health to provide abortions free of charge at certain state medical facilities and to provide counselling for women.
Legalised private institutions can also perform abortions. However, medical personnel who have any personal objection to performing an abortion can choose not to do so, but they must then refer the woman to another practitioner – and confidentiality is promised.
How fascinating then, that one of the first actions Donald Trump took as he entered the U.S. presidency was to clamp down on termination of pregnancy. He has kept his vow made to Christian conservatives to “protect the unborn”.
Trump has overall stifled and blocked reproductive rights of women, and as such has made it easier for states to block Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. New U.S. laws call for mandatory counselling sessions, in which patients are told about the mental-health consequences of having an abortion. This is framed as efforts to protect women from harm.
There is no evidence, however, that women who have abortions suffer disproportionately from long-term mental-health problems, though evidence does suggest that being denied abortion care can have other adverse consequences – such as a significant increase in household poverty, a reduction in full-time employment, an increase in public assistance that persists until women are timed out of these programmes, and an increased likelihood that women don’t have enough money to pay for food, housing and transportation.
Why is it that there is so much terror and resistance to termination? Why this clinging onto a “pro-life” stance when clearly the beneficial facts of termination are on the table? Are we still so stuck in a society that denies that sexuality happens between young people? Are we willing to risk the lives of young women for the sake of religious rigour and someone else’s “morality”?
According to global reproductive health group Marie Stopes International, between 52 and 58 percent of the estimated 260,000 abortions* that take place in South Africa every year are illegal.
Many women struggle to access services, whether it be because their local clinic isn’t operating or the costs are prohibitive, or because they fear judgment from the medical staff.
Abortion is a taboo subject in South Africa, with all of the associated stigmas. Stigma is at the root of many of the abortion challenges. It often impacts a nurse or doctor’s willingness to provide abortion care, limiting available services.
It makes women afraid to access an abortion at a formal facility – this, in turn, allows backstreet providers to fill in the gap. Unsafe and even dangerous, they operate on a business model of money for abortion pills. This eliminates stigma and shame for the young woman who will go to any lengths to terminate her unintended or unwanted pregnancy – with dire impact on her health.
Abortion stigma shames and silences women seeking abortions, and is a major contributor to unsafe and often lethal conditions for women.
Perhaps you mistakenly believe that women who choose termination can’t make moral decisions, that only careless people have abortions, that abortion is bad for women. Let’s not forget that no one knows better than the pregnant person which decision is right for them; no one understands better the full implications and impact of their choice.
Do not judge women who choose to have abortions, and encourage others not to pass judgment either.
Consider your current relationship to termination:
1. I’ve had one/more and live with no regret.
2. I live with regret – that I did/did not terminate.
3. As a man, I resent having no say in termination.
4. As a man, I support/do not support termination.
5. I keep it a secret as I fear rejection and stigmatisation.
Here’s how you can get a legal termination of pregnancy:
- The act legalises abortions during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, at 13 to 20 weeks and after the 20th week of pregnancy.
- The woman must agree to the abortion unless she is incapable of doing so (for example, if she is mentally ill or unconscious).
- Minors do not need their parents’ assistance or permission to have a legal TOP, although practitioners should advise them to consult with their family before the procedure.
- A woman does not need the father’s consent.
- You will have a choice between a medical abortion and a surgical abortion.
- Talk about abortion openly and without shame.
- Do not judge women who choose to have abortions, and encourage others not to pass judgment either.
- Support a woman’s right to make her own reproductive and sexual health choices.
- Offer your personal support to a woman you know who is facing termination.
- Share your own termination story where you feel safe and comfortable doing so.
- Recognise that termination stigma is simply a form of discrimination, and refuse to discriminate against women based on this or any other factor.
- Donate to organisations that help to fight for women’s rights.