Africa: 9 Things That Will Change the Way You Look At Abortion

Everyone's got an opinion on it but can we say the same about the facts?

Abortion has been legal in South Africa for more than 20 years. So why do women continue to flock to illegal abortionists and put their lives in their hands? The answer is probably more complex than you've been led to believe because even in the 21st century, we're still not talking about terminations.

Very intrigued by this conversation, one that makes so many of us uncomfortable. #SafeAbortion - Njabulo Mofokeng (@NjabuloM_) February 27, 2018

And our silence is deadly.

This week, Bhekisisa brought together journalists, doctors, activists and women to talk about #SafeAbortion and things got real. So if you thought you knew everything there was to know about abortion in South Africa, think again.

1. Women's bodies - in particular, black women's bodies - have a long history of being policed in South Africa, Eddie Mhlanga, the Mpumalanga health department's specialist obstetrician and gyneacologist points out.

Mhlanga now talks about Black women did not have access to #SafeAbortion services during apartheid, leaving them with no choice but to go to backstreet abortion providers. - Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) February 27, 2018

2. But then democracy happened, and women such as Albertina Sisulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma made it into Parliament. They had their sights set on putting an end to the apartheid legislation that was killing black women. Mhlanga helped pen the 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act. Sisulu, Dlamini-Zuma and others made sure it passed.

#SafeAbortion: SA's abortion act was a result of women who stood up and demanded it go through, Mhlanga says. - Joan van Dyk (@vandykjoan) February 27, 2018

And here's what women are entitled to today:

3. But more than two decades later, there's a lot standing in the way of people with uteruses and their right safe, legal abortions. Sometimes it's a lack of public health facilities. A recent telephonic survey by Bhekisisa found that less than 7% of public clinics and hospitals offered the procedure.

Even when services are nearby, the very people who are legally supposed to provide the services go to great lengths - and even heavy-duty hardware - to make sure women can't use them.

Manala Makau, Director for women's health & reproductive health says a healthcare provider from North West changed room locks to obstruct #SafeAbortion this person was suspended, offered training and is now back at work @KayaNews - Lindi Sirame (@Lindi_Sirame) February 27, 2018

And firing them isn't always an immediate option.

Makua says it's not that simple to "just dismiss".

She says the department gave the manager positive support. She says only repeaters should be given harsh disciplinary actions. #SafeAbortion - Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) February 27, 2018

4. When it comes to bullying women out of seeking services or just plain shutting them down, everyone from a hospital head to a clinic cleaner can play their part, says Indira Govender. Govender is a doctor from rural KwaZulu-Natal who has worked at a regional hospital, performed terminations and treated women's complications from backstreet abortions.

. @indigoesround : We had a security guard who told a woman the TOP service was not happening that day. She took a termination tablet from a drug dealer and suffered horrible consequences. #SafeAbortion - shaazia ebrahim (@shaazzeea) February 27, 2018

5. Even when government clinics and hospitals offer safe, free terminations, the humiliation women endure to get them from staff is enough to send them to those illegal abortionists anyway.

It's simple!!

Girls fear victimization in hospitals like Being told they are whores

Lack of confidentiality in Public Hospitals.

It's embarrassing for many girls to go to hospitals & undergo many processes to do abortion, hence they go the easiest/fastest route.#safeabortion - Thadishe Pediguy

Don't believe it? Here's what one health worker said to us last year:

6. And that shaming comes from a deep, dark and very gendered place. Sometimes, it hurts worse than the procedure. This, rather than the termination, haunts you because those voices that call you names for exercising a Constitutional right begin to ring in your head, says Grace who underwent her first termination at 17.

#SafeAbortion. "Relationships now, are only casual. You get used to the voices, they become a part of you. Knowing someone loves you - it's shocking. I can't connect to men, because I have been failed and abused by them." - Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) February 27, 2018

7. Despite the hype, no one really knows how many women die at the hands of illegal abortionists each year. Not even the national health department, admits the department's director for women's health and reproductive health and genetics, Manala Makua.

.@HealthZA has run a print and radio ad for their #PHILA campaign which states that, in South Africa, a woman dies of an unsafe abortion every eight seconds. But Makua can't say where this statistic comes from. #SafeAbortion - Joan van Dyk (@vandykjoan) February 27, 2018

But this wasn't always the case.

Mhlanga says as a doctor who provides abortion services he has been stigmatized.

" The tragedy is that the minister of health doesn't know what is happening in the country. Meeting s around reproductive health were abolished."#SafeAbortion - Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) February 27, 2018

8. By the health department's flawed calculations, tens of thousands of women should be dying because of illegal abortions and not even that hyped up number has sparked a national outrage, Mhlanga points out. There might be a reason for that, he says.

Mhlanga says if men were the ones who were dying, there would be a lot of noise. "Women need to have the right to choose to what happens to her body." #SafeAbortion - Bhekisisa M&G Health (@Bhekisisa_MG) February 27, 2018

9. Meanwhile, the real causalities are mounting, unnamed and uncounted.

Last week I saw a 23-year-old patient die from an unsafe abortion that went septic...

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