Written By Miriro Rupende.
Every woman has the right to make decisions freely and responsibly, without discrimination, coercion, or violence. The number, spacing, and timing of children, and the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health, should be solely dependent on each woman’s wishes. This short piece seeks to advocate for women and girls in order to adjust the laws in Zimbabwe to support safe and easily accessible abortion services.
As a Master’s student in Development Studies at the Women’s University, and an advocate for women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), I believe that Zimbabwean laws against abortion are to a great extent unfair. Access to legal, safe, and comprehensive abortion care, including post-abortion care, is essential for the attainment of the highest possible level of sexual and reproductive health. Three out of ten pregnancies end in induced abortions. Nearly half of all abortions are unsafe, and almost all of these unsafe abortions take place in developing countries. Abortions are safe when they are carried out in a method that is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) that is appropriate for the gestational age of the pregnancy and when the person carrying out the abortion has the necessary skills. Such abortions can be done using pills (medical abortion) or via a simple outpatient procedure. When women with unwanted pregnancies do not have access to safe abortions, they often resort to unsafe abortions. An abortion is unsafe when it is carried out either by a person lacking the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to the minimal medical standards, or both.
On a personal level, I was a mother at 19. The father of the child did not want anything to do with me. I felt so alone and afraid to face my parents. They did not find out until I was in labour. I used several methods to cover the protrusion. At six months, I started tying my stomach using my old clothes. Those nine months were the worst months of my life! I was constantly depressed, and I always felt suicidal. I had just enrolled in university for my Bachelor’s degree when I fell pregnant. It was difficult for me to go to school every day and keep up with the pressure. As a result, my grades fell drastically, and I ended up deferring three semesters. I sought out abortion services in the early stages of my pregnancy, but I found none. To this day, I still wish I had had the privilege of being able to access safe and cheap abortion services. My experience drove me to become a radical feminist and, in turn, has led to me working with numerous female- centred organizations, such as HOPE and Patsime, which help address women’s and girls’ sexual and reproductive health rights.
Characteristics of an unsafe abortion include inappropriate circumstances before, during, and after an abortion. Unsafe abortions can lead to immediate health risks, including death, as well as long-term complications, affecting women’s physical and mental health and well-being throughout their lives. It also has financial implications for women and communities. Statistics show that two in every five unwanted pregnancies in Zimbabwe are unsafely aborted and as such, given the health and financial risks unsafe abortions pose, it is mandatory for the Zimbabwean government to set better laws concerning abortion, or better still, to legalise abortion and make safe abortion services readily available.
Unsafe abortion procedures may involve the insertion of an object or substance (root, twig, catheter, or traditional concoction) into the uterus; dilation and curettage performed incorrectly by an unskilled provider; ingestion of harmful substances; and application of external force. In Zimbabwe, figures tell us that seventy percent of women and girls that undergo unsafe abortion procedures either damage vital parts of their body, such as their wombs, or end up dying after the procedures. Is it not better for the government to legalize abortion and provide safe abortion services than to put precious lives at risk? Moreover, the economic hardships being faced by Zimbabweans make abortion very justifiable. I am of the view that a baby should not be brought into this world if it will not have all the basic necessities at its disposal. People in Zimbabwe are finding it difficult to feed themselves, what should they do if there is another mouth to feed?
I believe every woman has the right to determine her own future, whether that means using contraception to prevent an unintended pregnancy or choosing to end a pregnancy through a safe abortion. Access to safe abortion does not only enable a woman to determine her own future, but also means she can contribute to creating a better, more sustainable future for everyone. That is why Zimbabwe seriously needs to adjust its laws to better suit women in such conditions. Every day, women and girls around the world seek abortions but do not have access to safe services. Most of those women are confused, traumatized, and do not know where to turn for support. Abortion should be legalized in Zimbabwe because it gives women and girls a second chance at life and allows them to move forward with their lives, whether academically or socially.