Source: Herald Tribune website

Decade of legal abortions in South Africa sees back street operations
almost eradicated
Filed under: abortion — ABRAXAS @ 3:14 am

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: Deaths from back street abortions have
dropped by 91 percent in the decade since South Africa became one of
the few African countries to legalize abortion, health care workers

Speaking on International Women's Day at a conference, Elizabeth
Maguire, president of Ipas, an U.S.-based reproductive rights
organization, hailed the progress South Africa has made in making safe
abortions accessible to more women. But health care workers said
abortion still carried a stigma, and an anti-abortion group said the
anniversary was no cause for celebration.

"South Africa stands as a great success story and clearly leads the
region in advancing women's reproductive health and rights," she said

South African legislation, passed in 1996, allows unrestricted
abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy. Nearly 530,000 women had
abortions between 1997 and 2006, according to figures provided by Ipas
South Africa with 11 percent being provided to girls under 18 years

The risk of death from unsafe abortions is higher in Africa than in
any other region with about 4.2 million unsafe operations being
performed and 30,000 related deaths a year, said Maguire.
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"The greatest tragedy is that the deaths and injuries from unsafe
abortions are largely preventable. This has been shown very
dramatically in South Africa," she said.

Maguire said a number of African countries are introducing abortion
law reform. Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali,
Swaziland and Togo have enacted additional conditions under which
abortion is legal. Mozambique is also considering liberalizing its
abortion laws, she said.

But many health workers in South Africa spoke of those who performed
operations being shunned by their communities or colleagues.

"It is traumatizing, especially when you see patients coming back for
repeat abortions," said nursing sister Vuyisile Makhatini. "But we do
get counseling and you get used to it. I feel I must assist all those
women who come for help."

Maguire said anti-abortion forces in the United States were helping
fuel a "well-organized and financed" opposition to abortion in Africa.
But opposition also was rooted in traditional culture on the

While safe abortions have been made accessible to more women, speakers
at the conference said the practice was still not seen as totally
socially acceptable, especially in more rural conservative

"It is still seen as a taboo. This is often why women come for
terminations late in their pregnancies," said Makhatini.

Of the abortions performed in South Africa, 24 percent were provided
to women in the second trimester.

Makhatini said women wanting abortions cited socio-economic reasons,
breakdowns in relationships, unemployment and wanting to continue

Professor Charles Ngwenya, head of the Department of Constitutional
Law at the University of the Free State, emphasized that abortion
should be seen as a last resort and that there was a need for greater
contraception programs to be put in place.

"We need to celebrate that more women have access to abortions and
that we have been able to reduce maternal deaths. But we can't
celebrate if the number increases for a long time. Abortion must not
be the only choice for women," he said.

However, John Smyth, spokesman for the anti-abortion organization
Doctors For Life, said a decade of abortion in South Africa was no
cause for celebration. He said there was concern that the law was not
being followed properly and pregnant women were not being thoroughly

"The abortion figures are horrifying and there are many wounded and
hurting women who wish they hadn't had an abortion," he said.

The organization is assisting 21-year-old Crystal Osler who was
subjected to an illegal abortion at 28 weeks in 2004 while in her last
year of school. Osler and her parents are suing the school, accused of
arranging the abortion behind her parents back, and the clinic where
the abortion took place. The case is expected to be heard in the
Durban High Court next month.

this article first appeared on the international Herald Tribune website

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