Better education will help fight unsafe abortions

It is estimated that at least 5.5 million unsafe abortions occur in Africa every year and about 40% of the women die as a result of complications due to these procedures.

Keeping the issue of contraceptive usage and abortion in the shadows does not help anyone.
Keeping the issue of contraceptive usage and abortion in the shadows does not help anyone.

Abortion, unless it is done for medical purposes, remains illegal in most of the SADC region, but is legal in South Africa.

Many argue about the morality of seeking abortion when one has an option to keep the baby and avoid health risks associated with unsafe abortions. But before we start judging these women, it is important to look at the root cause of this issue and the possible ways in which it can be addressed.

Abortions can be avoided if all governments meet their obligations to the various international, regional and national policies they have signed to ensure that women’s sexual and reproductive rights are upheld.

Of particular note is the Africa Union Maputo Plan of Action of 2006 which, among other things, calls for the guarantee of safe motherhood, making family planning services more accessible, preventing abortion and the complications resulting from unsafe abortion.

Regionally, 13 of the 15 SADC countries are signatories to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which calls for the development and implementation of policies and programmes that address the physical, mental, sexual and reproductive health needs of women.

Despite all these commitments, women in the region continue to die as a result of unsafe abortions.

According to the 2010 Millennium Development Goals report, the unmet need for family planning remains moderate to high in most regions, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where one in four women aged 15 to 49 who are married or in a union and have expressed the desire to use contraceptives do not have access to them.

Many unwanted pregnancies result, especially among the poor. Many women resort to ghastly methods such as inserting sharp objects into their vagina, swallowing toxic herbal concoctions, overdosing on malaria medication or drinking bleach.

These are horrific risks which no woman should be forced to take in the 21st century, especially at a time when Africa is basking in the glory of other achievements, including improved education enrolments and reduced HIV prevalence rates.

Keeping the issue of contraceptive usage and abortion in the shadows does not help anyone. Evidence shows that criminalising abortion and discouraging contraceptive use has adversely contributed to high maternal mortality in the region.

The most appropriate way of dealing with abortion is for governments to revise their legal stance and scale-up programmes designed to meet the need for family planning.

According to a 2008 WHO study, unintended pregnancy and subsequent abortion can be prevented by expanding and improving family planning services and choices and reaching out to communities and underserved population groups. This could be sexually active teenagers and unmarried women, migrants or poor urban slum dwellers.

The sooner we all open our eyes and realise that unsafe abortions and the unmet need for family planning services are huge impediments to the realisation of the MDG’s, the better for us all. – Lucia Makamure is the Gender Links Alliance Programme Officer. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service special series for Women’s Month.

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