Why abortion rights are human rights

For many years we have watched as people around the world continue having the pro-life versus pro-choice discussion. According to Focus on the Family, pro-life and pro-choice are defined as:

Pro-life (adj): the belief that all human life is created equal regardless of size, level of development, education, and degree of dependency. Therefore, taking the life of a pre-born baby is a violation of the fundamental right to life.”

Pro-choice (adj): the belief that every woman should be endowed with the right to her own life and body. Therefore, denying a woman an abortion is denying her the right to bodily autonomy.”

Now, I have no real issue with the conversation, but what I can never understand is why people insist on pushing their views and beliefs onto others? Whether or not you are pro-life or pro-choice actually doesn’t matter. Why are you infringing on someone’s reproductive and sexual rights by forcing them to adhere to your politics? I want us all to understand one thing – It is an irrefutable fact that YOUR body belongs to YOU. No one else. You will always be able to make better decisions for yourself, but you know what? Even if you don’t, decisions that involve YOU, are YOURS TO MAKE. This piece is about YOU, for YOU.

Let’s get to the facts, abortion in South Africa is LEGAL. The Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act, allows anyone the right to an abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This is regardless of age or circumstance. You need not have had a traumatic experience, or feel like you cannot financially cope, you just have to want to terminate the pregnancy. There are no conditions besides how far along you are.

Between 13, up to and including 20 weeks, you can still get an abortion after consulting with a medical practitioner. However, they have to be of the belief that carrying the pregnancy to term could impact both you or the foetus physically, mentally or financially and consider whether or not the pregnancy is the result of a traumatic experience. The full Act can be found here.

For us in South Africa, Termination of pregnancy (TOP) has been legal since 1996, but for 26 countries around the world, abortion is still illegal regardless of whether the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest. What this tells me is that men are sitting in chambers making and upholding policies that pertain to the bodies of all genders in their states. Do I not get to decide what happens to MY body?

But, even when you live in South Africa where you can make your own reproductive decisions, there are still so many barriers that make accessing TOP services, and I guess reproductive and sexual healthcare in general, extremely difficult. So where there is no accessibility, where is the choice? Yes, it is legal, but if society, medical facilities and financial circumstances bully you into carrying to term, where is the choice in that? We want to give you vital, informative and empowering information that allows you to have and make that choice.

 HEARD reports, “South Africa has one of the most progressive abortion laws in the world with abortion on demand. However, it’s estimated that 50% of abortions in South Africa occur outside of designated health facilities.” So even in a country where abortion is legal, 50% of the abortions that occur, still happen outside of the registered and controlled health facilities. There are many reasons for this, some include shame and stigma, financial constraints, inaccessible information and sometimes time constraints.

The issues and deaths related to unsafe abortions are too many and can be avoided! According to the Guttmacher institute:

“ 1. In 2012, nearly seven per 1,000 women of reproductive age in Africa were treated for complications from unsafe abortions. In all, about 1.6 million women in the region are treated for such complications each year.

2. Africa is the region with the highest number of abortion-related deaths. In 2014, at least 9% of maternal deaths (or 16,000 deaths) in Africa were from unsafe abortions.

3. The poorest women with the fewest resources are the most likely to experience complications from unsafe abortions.”

The shame, stigma, financial constraints, inaccessible information and sometimes time constraints, not only hinder people from asking questions, getting the information and services they need, but they also cause deaths that could have been avoided. What we need to do is increase access to care and information whilst destigmatising a necessary procedure. The #SizaMap by Bhekisisa can be used to search for safe, accessible, legal abortion clinics closest to you. You can even go to these facilities if you’re seeking consultation and information. These are safe spaces to ask questions.

Together, we need to end abortion stigma and increase support for people’s access to abortions. This also includes the need to curb misinformation. Most of the information that we have heard through the grape vine about abortions has been false and misleading. For example, I’ve always heard that most people regret their abortions and feel shame, a sort of depression and dread afterwards – “abortion trauma syndrome.” This was debunked in a 2009 Harvard Review of Psychiatry study. They found no convincing evidence that terminating a pregnancy was associated with any mental health risk. In fact, the Turnaway Study released in early 2020 found that “95% of women report that having the abortion was the right decision for them over five years after the procedure.” Most of the participants used the word “relief” to describe how they felt after their abortions. Find out more about the study and its findings here : https://www.ansirh.org/research/ongoing/turnaway-study

It’s also interesting to note that the study finds that where people have feelings of guilt or sadness after their abortion, they usually live in societies where abortion is still shamed and stigmatised. With all of the research being done, we know that medical and surgical abortions are safe and highly effective, however these have to occur in controlled environments where people have access to information and any care and facilities they may need. When making your decision, remember that your sexual and reproductive rights should always be recognised, respected and addressed. Abortion services are crucial now more than ever during the current pandemic. It is imperative that all people get access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare services including comprehensive sex education, contraception, maternity care, pre-natal care, and abortion care. YOU are the best person to decide what happens to YOU.