Adverts pasted in public places and bus stations, such as the one next to the Grand Parade, promise quick and painless abortions, and a suspicious-sounding procedure called ‘womb-cleaning’.
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Although abortions have been legal in South Africa for almost two decades, there are still strict rules that apply, such as that government hospitals will only allow termination of pregnancies up to the end of the first trimester. After that, special rules apply.
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But it appears that illegal abortionists have no such scruples, and promise to do abortions on women who are up to eight months’ (32 weeks)pregnant. Babies, when born prematurely, are deemed to have a good chance of survival from 24 – 26 weeks onwards.
Women who are more than 12 weeks pregnant can only get a legal abortion if her physical or mental health is at stake, the baby will have severe abnormalities, the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or her economic or social situation is sufficient reason for the termination of the pregnancy.
Apart from moral considerations, there are serious health risks in having an illegal abortion. These illegal providers are mostly not medically trained and many things can go wrong, such as severe bleeding, septicaemia, organ damage, sterility, and even death.
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Why do women choose to do this?
The WHO defines unsafe or illegal abortions as a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy carried out either by persons lacking the necessary skills, or in an environment that does not conform to minimal medical standards, or both.
Laila Abbas, spokesperson for Marie Stopes Clinics, says women who turn to illegal service providers "irrespective of age, are all vulnerable, desperate" and may be facing the following circumstances:
- fear of rejection
- lack of support
- seeking confidentiality
- not well-informed about their rights
- past the 20-week gestation period at which abortions can legally be performed
A survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) revealed that nine out of ten South Africans view abortion as wrong, even if a family couldn't afford a child, or if there is a strong chance that the baby could be born with defects. So stigma could be part of what drives pregnant women to backstreet abortionists.
So despite the legalisation of abortion, deaths at the hands of illegal abortionists appear to be a growing problem.
Medical abortions are safe
Abortion rate rising sharply