Calls for safe, legal abortion resurface

04th October 2017
Michaela Clayton Source:The Midweek Sun


By Rachel Raditsebe -

The Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), Alliance for Women Advocating for Change (AWAC), SAfAIDS and Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) recently led other African Rights Organisations in calling for safe, legal and accessible abortion in the continent. The call, made during the commemoration of the International Safe Abortion day on September 28th, comes despite many African countries criminalising it.

In the case of Botswana, abortion remains illegal but in 1991 the Penal Code was amended to allow it in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy under special circumstances, including if the pregnancy was a result of rape, incest, or defilement; and also if the woman is mentally deficient; if the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk or if the child would be born with a serious physical or mental abnormality. Even then, it could only be performed after two medical doctors had approved it.

In a joint statement, the bodies said continued criminalisation of abortion is significantly contributing to the high maternal mortality rate in Africa. “Laws that criminalise abortion do not prevent women and girls from having abortions, they only make them unsafe,” said ARASA Director, Michaela Clayton. She added: “This contributes to significantly high maternal mortality rates in Africa.” The World Health Organisation (WHO) says 9 percent of maternal deaths in 2015 were caused by unsafe abortions whilst globally 62 percent of all unsafe abortions result in deaths.

According to Clayton, the criminalisation of abortion also contributes to a high level of stigma, which negatively affects women’s willingness to ask for information about abortion, access legal abortion and seek post-abortion care even where abortion is legal. “The Sustainable Development Goals call on us to leave no one behind and seek universal health coverage for all. This includes increasing life expectancy and reducing the causes of maternal mortality. How will we achieve this when we continue to be guided by moral, religion or other prejudices at the expenses of our lives?

We need to do the right thing and provide universal access to safe, legal and accessible abortion for women and adolescent girls,” Clayton said. AWAC Director Kyomya Macklean said enabling women living with HIV and those who use drugs or do sex work to avoid the complications of unsafe abortions is a vital component of ensuring they have access to comprehensive Reproductive Health Care. “Health Care Providers must be able to discuss pregnancy termination in a non-directive and non-judgmental way and be able to refer women to safe legal abortion services,” Macklean said.

So far, according to the statement released by the African Rights Organisations, only four African countries - Cape Verde, Mozambique, South Africa and Tunisia - allow for the termination of pregnancy without restrictions of any kind but with limits according to the gestation while Zambia permits abortion on socio and economic grounds.

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