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Opinion - State-determined procreation: Unpacking the abortion act

2021-10-22  Staff Reporter

Opinion - State-determined procreation: Unpacking the abortion act
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On 18 October 2021, Namibia commenced on what is described as a historic moment for women and girl’s voices, as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Gender Equality, Social Development and Family Affairs hosted the first public hearings on abortion, 29 years later since the first abortion debate was sparked in parliament. 

These hearings were honoured by various stakeholder groups to present their stance for the liberalisation of the current Abortion and Sterilization Act No.2 of 1975, or to retain the current law as it is. 

For context, the Abortion and Sterilisation Act No.2 of 1975 is an archaic law, which was inherited 46 years ago by the then apartheid South African administration. 

The Act of 1975 allows abortion under very strict conditions: Where the continued pregnancy endangers the life of the woman concerned or constitutes a serious threat to her physical health, and where the continued pregnancy constitutes a serious threat to the mental health of the woman concerned. 

It also allows where there exists a serious risk that the child to be born will suffer from a physical or mental defect, and where the foetus is alleged to have been conceived in consequence of unlawful carnal intercourse (rape or incest). 

With the above, it is clear that anyone who falls outside of the conditional scope cannot obtain a legal abortion, which itself exacerbates socio-economic issues such as baby dumping, concealment of birth and unsafe backdoor abortions. 

As if the conditions are not restrictive enough, these are the steps to obtain a legal abortion in Namibia, according to a report by the Legal Assistance Centre: two medical certificates – Two doctors must each provide a written certificate, stating that they believe the pregnancy is the result of rape. 

One of the doctors must be a doctor, employed by the State. [Both doctors must be registered, medical practitioners. At least one of the two doctors must have been practising in Namibia for at least four years. The two doctors must not be practising in the same partnership or working for the same employer. Neither of the doctors who gives the certificate can perform the abortion. The abortion must be done by a third independent doctor]. 

A certificate from a magistrate, stating that the pregnancy likely resulted from rape and that the woman has either laid a charge with the police, or showed a good reason for failing to lay a charge. 

In the case where the pregnancy is a threat to your mental health, a certificate from a psychiatrist is required. 

If the victim is a minor, they need consent from a parent, guardian, the ministry of gender or a children’s court. A serious and critical analysis of the conditions and steps indicates that the Act, enforced by the state, intends to impose its vision of a woman’s role to procreate by making the law unthinkably and unconscionably difficult to access a safe legal abortion, thereby imposing state-determined procreation. 

Keeping in context why this particular Act was written this way, it becomes glaringly clear that although the purpose of this specific Act was to achieve a utopian white-supremacist population, it continues to infringe on the reproductive autonomy of all women, regardless of race, even though structurally and socially, it is mainly poor Black people most severely affected by the law. 

Susanne M. Klausen writes in her book, ‘Abortion Under Apartheid: Nationalism, Sexuality, and Women’s Reproductive Rights in South Africa’, that “... the apartheid regime denied white women access to medical abortion in an attempt to police white womanhood, to ensure white women’s reproductive sexuality was sutured, and pressed into the service of the racialised traditional family”. 

She further went on to state that “The apartheid sex code was imposed on all white South Africans, especially Afrikaners via their near-universal membership in one of three Afrikaner churches, and regulated by the state”.

 Once again, a clear indication that in spite of how racialised the Act is, a woman’s ‘reproductive role’, as imposed by religious, traditional and fascist groups, should be controlled and regulated by the state. 

Namibia can barely regulate the availability of contraceptives, as it was reported in The Namibian in 2020: “The Ministry of Health and Social Services has advised women and girls to abstain from sex or use condoms, as state facilities across the country have run out of contraceptives,” an essential health commodity that assists with practising healthy sexual behaviour.  

We can barely even provide adequate healthcare supplies such as oxygen (this was starkly revealed several months ago amidst strict Covid-19 lockdowns) – and yet, we impose this clearly outdated Act onto women as if the state is coping under the current population size and resources. 

If our policy and lawmakers as well as custodians of Justice are serious about redressing the many infrastructural and institutional issues we face, it should start with repealing and replacing outdated archaic laws that repress the bodily autonomy and reproductive rights of women and girls. 

We can no longer talk about economic and political development in isolation of women and girls who constitute more than half of our electorate. The more women remain shackled to pre-independence oppressive and post-colonial obsolete laws, the less our institutions grow and develop. The lesser the communities will thrive, the more we confirm that we are just like the oppressors of the apartheid regime. 

2021-10-22  Staff Reporter

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