As a preliminary remark, this article continues my reflection on the complex matter of abortion, exploring this moral mine-field with a sobre mind and reasonable approach.
South Africa had a high maternal mortality rate, especially among the “African” population.
Septic abortion is a major contributor to maternal death incidence rates.
Various studies have shown the incidence, extent and terrible consequences of unsafe abortion.
According to the CIA website, South Africa has a Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) of 138 (265 Namibia) per 100.00 people, estimated in 2015 (https://www.cia.gov/library/publication/the world-factbook/rankorder/2223rank.html).
In Namibia, this figure is very high at 195 per 100.00.
Giving birth is dangerous (https.//knoema.com/atlas/Namibia. Maternal-mortality-ratio).
In addition, under apartheid laws, black people were forbidden to utilise “white hospitals”.
This led to economically poor women seeking help in the unhealthy environments on backstreets.
Many of these women died or suffered severe internal injuries. The history of women’s rights is linked to the history of the oppressed – for in a patriarchal society, women are often not allowed to make any decisions about their lives, including their reproductive health.
Under apartheid, the law prohibited terminations of pregnancies. In the passing of the Abortion and Sterilization Act, 1975 (Act No.2 of 1995, terminations were permitted but very strictly controlled.
Three medical doctors has to give permission.
This Act largely benefitted wealthy white people, who were mostly able to afford to travel overseas for a termination procedure.
For poor, rural black women, access to termination services was extremely limited in practice from 1975 to 1996.
Women, and black women in particular, are generally economically dependent upon men.
Men often take advantage of this compromised position. Women often depend on make finances for access health care with the results that women tend to present late for medical attention.
In developing countries, poverty has a women’s face.
Women face patriarchy; lack of financial freedom; lack of control over their lives and bodies; lack of adequate healthcare – and very often in South Africa, women face physical, sexual and emotional abuse of themselves and their girl-children.
One of the provisions in South-Africa’s 1996 laws allows women of any age to seek a termination, without parental consent.
This was one of the trickiest part of the Act.
It was felt that where girl-children are abused within the family circle, giving parental permission for a termination would deny access because the family circle, giving parental permission for a termination world 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 for Pregnancy Act of 1996 enhances women’s rights to protection and healthcare.
The social context of South Africa’s poverty-trapped population implies that women need legal and social protection from need, as well as from abuse 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 health care and physical protections.
According to StatSA, the government of South Africa’s official statistical department, “the proportion of the population living in poverty decline from 66.6% (31.6 million persons) in 2006 to 53.2% (27.3 million) in 2011 but increased to 55.5% (30.4 million) in 2015” (https://www.gov.za/statistics-south-africa-poverty-trends-south-fafrica-22 aug-2017).
Therefore, the wider 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.
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, and 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 a termination is unthinkable.