By Marie-Simone Kadurira
In the past year, we released the story of Lizette; a story of strength that shed light on what it means to have an abortion. Her story details how she chose to have an abortion when she and her partner were not ready to have a child and care for them in a capacity they hope to care for their children. We are able to experience the emotions she goes through in making the decision, as well as the stigma she gets even from practitioners.
Lizette’s story is definitely not the first, and it will absolutely not be the last, particularly in the context of South Africa. As a country that has one of the most liberal abortion laws on the continent, one might assume that many women are given the liberty to seek out safe abortions.
But the records show that in fact, 50% of abortions in South Africa are conducted under unsafe conditions. As was highlighted in the story of Lizette, there continues to be disapproval and resistance from healthcare providers to provide women with safe abortions services in their facilities, which means nowhere near enough facilities offer this necessary service. And even if they do, many women have noted feeling discouraged due to the stigma surrounding abortion in the context of South Africa.
About Abortion in South Africa
On the other side of the story, however, is also the stigma that is faced by abortion providers from fellow practitioners. Our report with IPAS that was released a few weeks ago spoke to this dynamic, and the challenge that is faced by those brave enough to provide the service for women. Although the testimonial presented comes from the perspective of someone seeking the service, we also acknowledge that the stories of those who provide the service are also stifled, and this has far-reaching consequences on the context in which abortions occurred. To that end, it is not only important to allow for those who have had abortions to speak up, but also those who provide them. In doing so we open up the conversation further and allow for a more diverse set of voices to inform us of the context in which abortion occurs, which can do a lot for dismantling the stigma.
What South Africa reveals to us about abortion access is that often, stigma can override legislation and in doing so, inhibit many women from accessing a service they are absolutely entitled to. But in many ways, it is previous restrictive legislation that spurs stigma to begin with. Limiting access to abortion services often means knowledge about abortion services is also limited. This has allowed misinformation and those who oppose the procedure to dominate the space around abortions and what remains is confusion and apprehension towards abortion overall.
The reasons one seeks abortions are many, and through sharing the story of Lizette, we hope to highlight just one of the few. Women do not have to opt for unsafe options anymore, particularly in the context of South Africa. Within the nation, one can either seek a medical abortion or an in-clinic abortion upon request up to 12 weeks of gestation. Medical abortion includes the administration of either one or two types of pills, Misoprostol and Mifepristone. One can either take just Misoprostol alone or a combination of both the pills, but this is dependent on availability and the recommendation of your healthcare provider. Medical abortions can successfully be conducted at home legally in South Africa. The other option is an in-clinic abortion, and the most likely service one will receive is a Manual Vacuum Aspiration which is a quick procedure that uses an aspirator to manually remove the pregnancy.
Abortion real stories show diverse realities.
The story of Lizette shows us how abortion does not have to be a narrative encapsulated by grief and sorrow. In the presence of adequate information and open dialogue, many women feel empowered by their decision to seek out an abortion. In the absence of adequate information, one finds that women are riddled with shame, and that is where most of the inaccurate narratives about abortions stem from. Dismantling stigma is something that will take time, but the first step is to remain informed and educated. Only then can we honor the right to choose for those with uteruses and create a world in which those decisions come from a place of empowerment.