I would like to be afforded the dignity of choice

Safe abortions, save lives. The decision of whether or not to have an abortion, rests with the woman herself. Abortion is a fundamental human right, in Kenya and everywhere else.

By Angela Ngugi.

Almost every time I discuss abortion with a cis-man, they happen to be operating under the delusion that the decision is ultimately theirs. It is almost comical how men will sit on round tables and discuss our existence as an extension of themselves, how they center themselves in debates concerning women’s bodies and rights. That restrictive abortion laws have had a negative impact on maternal mortality in Kenya, yet that does not seem to be at the heart of discussions saddens me. It is this brazen entitlement to women’s bodies that makes me ponder upon the phrase ‘pro-choice’.

I would like to be afforded the dignity of choice…. 

The phrase often loosely said, holds so much weight and means that any person wishing to terminate a pregnancy for whatever reason, has autonomy over their own body. We are often told to tone down so many things that we believe in, even when it concerns our own bodies. So, no, I certainly will not tone it down a little. I have been watered down so many times I have grown tired of standing in puddles. This is one of the reasons I am a champion for women’s rights and continue to be vocal about the importance of choice.

The ability to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is the foundation of our liberation as women and progressive organizations in countries that stifle women’s voices are a necessity.

Abortion is a fundamental human right.

As a young Kenyan woman, seeking abortion services is no small feat with the law making it hard for us to fully exercise autonomy. Denying abortion services is yet to be equated to denying a fundamental human right and we have almost always been cast to the sidelines. There are many health consequences, including infection and bleeding, that result from unsafe procedures. Women need abortions for various reasons, and these reasons are valid, period. Luckily for us, organizations like safe2choose.org have curated a space where we can exist and learn from each other’s experiences. safe2choose.org is an organization whose values are founded primarily on the importance of having the right to choose but having access to information on safe abortion as required. safe2choose.org is an online counseling and informational platform that supports women seeking abortion services and refers them to trained pro-choice healthcare providers when needed 

I am grateful for the community that safe2choose.org has created and the perfectly curated space on their website that women can talk to each other and learn from. Abortions are common and are a normal part of healthcare. This is a procedure that many women will need in their life, and sometimes severally. Within this space, women have found some solace in each other while sharing their experiences, normalizing talking about the stigma surrounding abortion, and working towards the eradication of the stigma that causes so many unavoidable deaths. 

How online counseling on abortion addresses a looming public health crisis in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic 

With the shift towards a more digital approach to work and all meetings, healthcare still continues to struggle with its assimilation into the digital space. However, with the pandemic phasing out physical meetings, the idea of talking to your health-care provider from the comfort of your home gives one the feeling of safety without having to risk unnecessary physical contact. 

The reluctance of in-person care has made telemedicine a more workable approach to healthcare, and one that is likely to persist long after the pandemic is over. This also addresses the fact that many pharmacies and clinic hours have been scaled back, with the existence of a curfew in Kenya and other states and the presence of transport restrictions. In Kenya, we witnessed a significant increase in the number of teenage pregnancies during the stay-at-home period, yet with restrictive laws and lockdown, there has been a limit in access to reproductive health services. safe2choose.org caters to many women seeking abortion services but has proved quite useful during the pandemic. In the looming of Covid-19 cases surging and the looming fear, women’s health has ceased to be a matter of urgency as the pandemic takes center stage. Yet many women need counseling and advice on how to use abortion pills, assuming they are not having an in-clinic abortion.

Providing a safe space for women to communicate with trained professionals and also share their experiences has enabled more women to have access to accurate information. It caters to a wide audience as well and offers abortion information and advice in several languages, including counselors who speak Swahili. I strongly believe in the inclusion and representation of women from all ages, races, and nationalities and safe2choose facilitates this in such an impressive way. The services also provide a user with anonymity and use of the website for guidance and information at their discretion. 

Self-administration of abortion pills can be done at home without the need for a physical hospital visit, with easy access to detailed information and guidelines available on the website.

It is important to note that one may still be required to visit a clinic for an in-clinic abortion, depending on the gestational age. Through their live chat and email counseling service, safe2choose offers access to important information for women depending on their gestational age and other distinguishing factors that the safe2choose counselors would advise.

Angela Ngugi is a 24-year-old fifth-year medical student at Kenyatta University. She is a sexual and reproductive health advocate with 4 years of experience in youth advocacy and peer education. She has been an active volunteer at RESPEKT, where she provides peer education on sexual and reproductive health to Kenyan teenagers. She is also a spoken word artist and seeks to educate and impart knowledge through her art.