Reverend Jan Scholtz
As a preliminary remark, this article continues my reflection on the complex matter of abortion and continues to explore this moral mine-field with a sober mind and reasonable approach.
Women face patriarchy, lack of financial freedom, lack of control over their lives and bodies, lack of adequate healthcare – and very often in Namibia, women face physical sexual and emotional abuse of themselves and their girl children (The Namibian, 22 February 2021)
One of the provisions in South Africa’s 1996 laws allows women of any age to seek a termination of pregnancy without parental consent. This was one of the trickiest parts of the Act. It was felt that where girl children are abused within the family circle, giving parental permission for termination would deny access because the family and/or abuser would not want the abuse to be discovered.
Thus, it opens the door for other interventions in the family, where necessary. This is a key section of the Act in furthering the protection of women. Here, we can see that the Termination Pregnancy Act of 1996 enhances women’s rights to protection and healthcare.
The social context of Namibia and South Africa’s poverty-trapped population implies that women need legal and social protection from abusive and exploitation by fathers, uncles and male partners. Thus, whilst most people are probably not pro-abortion, the Act provides women with guaranteed access to proper healthcare and physical protections (New Era, 24 February 2021).
The wider social context is important as the background to reproductive and human rights for women in society. Termination of pregnancy must be understood against this backdrop. Rape, exploitation and abuse are rife in a patriarchal society (The Namibian, 25 February 2021). In this context, termination laws must be measured in terms of human rights and reproductive agency and not just through a “moral” lens.
Ideally, what we need is to create a society in Southern Africa where we want, and poverty does not exist. We, who oppose termination need to work for a just social dispensation for women and for children, free from rape and exploitation, free from poverty and transactional sex, where maternal health intersects with women’s right to life and safety. A society where women enjoy safe access to contraception and healthcare, where children no longer go hungry. A society where termination is unthinkable.
Studies have revealed a cold fact. In countries where at different times abortion was both legalized and banned, what they found was the rate of abortion didn’t change significantly under either political condition, but what did happen is women’s health was dramatically impacted negatively during the period when it was banned. Banning is not a solution, and it pushes abortions into unsafe backroom clinics (The Namibian, March 2017)
The solution is to focus on the primary cause of abortion, which is an unwanted pregnancy. This means education, availability of birth control and support of organisation like planned parenthood.
Programmes, where this effort has been applied, has resulted in reduced abortions. And isn’t this the main objective at this point? i.e to reduce the number of terminations.
And how do we do that?
• We provide adequate access to effective contraceptives for women.
• We provide effective and user-centred sexuality education for young people. This is also known as comprehension education (CSE) by the UN agency, WHO.
• We provide quality educational opportunities for women, with appropriate child-care.
• We provide effective gender-sensitivity training for young males.
Doing these four things will sow a seed that will reap us a harvest of fewer terminations. Studies in the USA have shown that doing the opposite of these four things, increases termination rates. Where contraceptives access is limited, abortions increase. Where sexuality education is focused on abstinence or “don’t –do”, abortions increase. Where education opportunities for women are limited, abortion rates increase.
According to quantitative research, in 2016, by the Brookings Centre on Children and Families in the USA, “Control of fertility varies widely between income groups. Most unmarried women are sexually active, regardless of income. But women with higher incomes are much more successful at ensuring that sex does not lead to an accidental baby”.
“This almost certainly reflects their brighter economic and labour (sic) market prospects: simply put, they have more to lose from an unintended birth. Improving the economic and educational prospects of poorer women is therefore an important part of any strategy to reduce unintended birth rates.”
“But there are more immediate solutions, too affluent women use contraception’s more frequently and more effectively, and there is a clear case for policies to help close this income gap, including increasing access to long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs”) (https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uoploads/2016/06/class.gaps.unintendedpregnancy release, pdf, accessed 2020).
Women in poverty are five (5) times more likely to experience an unwanted pregnancy. The Brookings Centre on Children and Families again says, “Low-income women are more than five (5) time s as likely than affluent women to experience an unintended pregnancy, which has significant implications for social mobility given that unplanned childbearing is associated with higher rates of poverty, less family stability, and worse outcomes for children” (https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uoploads/2016/06/class.gaps.unintendedpregnancy release, pdf, accessed 2020).
Termination remains a practical necessity while current circumstances prevail. Only when society has eliminated the above challenges, can termination be taken off the options list. Therefore, we need our society to have an open dialogue and discourse about human sexuality. We need men to value women. We need to have conversations about consent and what that means in the context of relationships.