Despite safe medical abortion services being offered for free in public health facilities, the number of backdoor abortions being performed, especially on teenagers, is increasingly escalating as bogus doctors profit from the desperation of young women.
The scarcity of nurses and skill shortages, along with the lack of knowledge and the stigma around abortion, are among the reasons young people still opt for terminating pregnancies through illegal abortions at backdoor clinics.
In commemoration of International Safe Abortion Day on Thursday, health activists for various organisations cited these as some reasons that push young women to consider unsafe abortions and bemoaned the lack of educational resources in public health institutions on abortion.
Tshweu Mosedi, the deputy chairperson of the Mmoho steering committee, told City Press that the lack of public health resources was one of the paramount reasons that led to young people opting for unsafe abortions:
Unfortunately, they even enter the second trimester, still waiting. One of the reasons is that we do not have enough nurses who want to perform abortions. There is also a scarcity of nurses and a skill shortage, while some people live in peripheral areas and cannot access clinics.
Mosedi cited a survey, he conducted in 2019 for an HIV/Aids activist organisation, where it was discovered that there was a long list of young people who were waiting to access the first-trimester termination of pregnancies.
He also pointed out that young people did not want to terminate abortions in clinics because of the stigma and attitude nurses gave them when they wanted to have an abortion.
Health activists march to raise awareness about illegal abortions on International Safe Abortion Day.
Meanwhile, Tsholofelo Ngwexane, deputy chairperson of the Mmoho committee, said: “You walk into a clinic and find that you get an older lady, who will scold you as a parent and not give the correct professional advice that they are supposed to give.”
Ngwexane adds that another barrier is the cultural aspect, respect and discipline because culturally, it sounds improper for a young person to go to an older person and tell them: “I am pregnant and I want to terminate. Culturally, it does not make sense, but professionally, it does hold water.”
The deputy chairperson concedes that the risks of having unsafe abortions have far-reaching impacts:
The people who administer illegal abortions just give you pills without a prescription. The pills get rid of the baby because they are acidic, but most times, you find they damage the organs.
Dudusang Mmeti from Ibis Reproductive Health added that Africa had the highest burden of abortion-related mortality globally due to limited access to safe abortion services.
More than 100 health activists and young people held a march in Ferndale, Randburg, to raise awareness of safe abortion services and advocate for sexual and reproductive health rights on Thursday.
Some of the health organisations include Ibis Reproductive Health, Accountability International and Ipas Africa Southern Region. They were joined by young people to remove illegal abortion adverts on poles and danger boxes and replace them with safe abortion stickers.
“We are here to mobilise young people to be part of the march to remove illegal abortion posters on the wall and make them aware of what is happening out there and how they can access quality health services,” said Mosedi.
“Even in countries where the law allows abortion under specific stipulations, it is likely that a significant number of those who need the service face barriers that at times cause them to either keep pregnancies they don’t desire or opt for unsafe procedures. South Africa is an example of such a country; although it has progressive law,” Mmeti said.
According to Mmeti, globally, most abortions are a result of over 121 million unintended pregnancies as contraception needs remain unmet, coupled with barriers to accessing safe abortion services, and a lack of enabling legal and policy environments, including restrictive abortion laws.
“Safe abortion is a reproductive right and reproductive rights are human rights. Taking the decision to opt for an abortion is an exercise of one’s reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. A denial of abortion care is a denial to one’s right to choice, and a denial of this right is an injustice to an individual’s reproductive health rights and human rights,” she adds.