15 October 2010

Babies in the bin

Many women would rather dump a new-born baby than consider having an abortion while they still can. How weird is that, asks Susan Erasmus.


Many women would rather dump a new-born baby than consider having an abortion while they still can. How weird is that, asks Susan Erasmus.

Over 500 babies have been dumped by their mothers in the Cape Town region this year. That's an astonishingly high number. But even one would have been one too many.

It's easy to point fingers if you have an income, a place to stay, a supportive family and food to eat. Things must be pretty desperate for someone to go against all human instincts of wanting to protect and nurture a child – especially one's own. What must go through someone's mind as they abandon a baby and make a quick getaway?

Many of the mothers who do this, are in effect still children themselves. An example of this is the 17-year-old who allegedly killed her baby in Khayelitsha and then pretended that the baby had been snatched by a stranger.

There are many socio-economic reasons for high numbers of teenage pregnancies: poverty, lack of education, lack of access to information or health facilities, an ignorance of basic sexual facts, rape. In an ideal world, there would be only wanted babies. There would also be no war, no famine, no domestic violence and no crime. Dream on.

In the midst of all of this, our society has a strange knee-jerk reaction to the idea of abortion. It is a suggestion that most youngsters are horrified by, judging by the reactions of thousands of township kids I taught. Whether for religious or social reasons, it is simply not deemed a possibility.

But life very frequently is not a choice between right and wrong. It is often a choice between varying shades of grey. If you think the opposite, I wish you everything of the best. You are in for a rough ride.

 According to the law, abortions should be available free at state hospitals. But quite a few nurses and doctors refuse to do this procedure, even though they are legally required to. Still, many hospitals do provide this service. Millions of women have opted for this. Of course, it would be better not to get pregnant in the first place, but life is what it is. We can try and imprint a code of values and a set of morals on it, but it always manages to surprise us.

In short, if you're pregnant, and you don't want the baby, first try and have it adopted. If that is not an option, abortion is next on the list. If you feel that abortion is murder, and carry the baby to full-term, then you're just going to have to make a plan somehow. Dumping is not a moral or humane option. Contraceptives are free at government clinics. You don't have to go through this again. And neither does a poor, unwanted baby.

I have always been amazed that countries that are violently opposed to abortion, are usually merrily in favour of capital punishment. The sanctity of life also doesn't come into the picture when trainloads of young soldiers get sent off to war. Either life is sacred, or it isn't. You can't have it both ways.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, October 2010)


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