South Africa: Despite Abortion Being Legal for 23 Years, There's Still a Way to Go


It's been 23 years since South Africa legalised abortion. But there are still obstacles, including medical staff who 'conscientiously object' to the procedure on religious grounds.

The Women's Legal Centre is celebrating 20 years doing what its director, Seeham Samaai, describes as "feminist litigation".

To celebrate this, the Women's Legal Centre held a feminist colloquium in Cape Town, and one of the sessions was on abortion since the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act was enacted in 1996.

"The early 1990s and the early days of democracy made the space for women to claim equality. The effect of the act was to shift from having limited access [to having an abortion], which was defined by race and class, to a legal framework which allows abortion on request," said Michelle O'Sullivan, who is the co-founder of the Women's Legal Centre and was its first executive director.

Under apartheid, women were only allowed to have an abortion if they had been raped or were mentally ill. In order to have an abortion, women had to get approval from two independent physicians, neither of whom could perform the procedure.

"Some time in the 1970s, there was research that estimated that one in 10...

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