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The dangers of having a back street abortion

By Faeza
11 November 2016

IT'S almost impossble to walk around any town in South Africa and not notice pamphlets on street poles advertising fast and safe abortions. The abortion clinics that advertise this service also promise that they can perform the procedure at any stage of the pregnancy. They offer easy and unsafe ways of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.


Mampho Dibakwane* (19) from Tembisa, is a second year law student at the University of

Johannesburg, and while doing her first year, she found out that she was pregnant. At seven months pregnant, she decided to terminate the pregnancy because she was scared of what her parents would say and her boyfriend didn’t want anything to do with her. She had the abortion at a backstreet clinic and the procedure was performed by a doctor who

only goes by the name, Dr Mama. She says having the abortion was a life-changing decision because after the procedure, she had some complications and when her mother took her to the family doctor, she was told the unpleasant news that she would never be able to conceive children.


Dr Elna McIntosh from Disa Health Care Clinic in Johannesburg, says the reason a lot of young women choose to have a backstreet abortion is because of the fear of being spotted at a clinic or hospital and because these illegal doctors are easy to access. She adds that in most cases, these women are ashamed of being pregnant at an early age. She says the services at these clinics are not as advertised. “These illegal doctors advertise quick and safe abortions, but the truth is, they are not. At these clinics, nobody examines you. They

just give out pills for you to take and some of the products they use stay behind in your body. In most cases, people even bleed to death,” says Dr Elna. She adds, “There’s a difference between legal and illegal clinics. At government clinics, the abortion

process is free and safe and is done by qualified doctors. They offer surgical procedures and the women are examined and receive counselling before the procedure is performed.”


Dr Elna says there are a lot of risks involved with having a backstreet abortion. “These backstreet doctors advertise an easy and cheap procedure, and they don’t care about your health afterwards. A person can bleed to death or in some cases, the whole process can lead into infertility,” she says. According to Dr John Wambusi from Abortion Clinic

Johannesburg, most young women go to these illegal doctors without even knowing that they are illegal. “Some of the young people that go to these doctors are unaware that they are not legal. However, some do know, but they go because they do not want to expose themselves to their parents by going to a hospital,” says Dr John. He says there are dangers of going to these backstreet doctors because after the procedure they do not clean the womb, which can lead to continuous bleeding or infections. “The best and safest way to get an abortion is to go to a private or government hospital or a place where you can be taken care of,” advises the doctor.


Tips on how to spot an illegal abortion clinic:

¯ It does not operate from a clinic and has no physical address. It only has a cell phone number.

¯ The doctor often calls himself doctor, but has no relevant qualifications.

¯ It only delivers or sells pills.

¯ It does not see and examine patients.

How to spot a legal abortion clinic:

¯ It operates from a clinic with a physical address and has a landline.

¯ The clinic is staffed by qualified doctors and nurses.

¯ It is equipped to do sonars and other medical procedures and offers medical and surgical procedures.

¯ When you visit the clinic they perform an exam and offer counselling before any procedure is performed.


Dr John says the right and possible time to terminate a pregnancy is within three months. “As qualified doctors, we know that an abortion cannot be performed after three months because there might be a lot of complications, a person might even die. It is not safe to terminate a pregnancy when a person is over three months pregnant,” he says. He further says these backstreet doctors do not care about a person’s health because they perform an abortion even if someone is seven or eight months pregnant.


Dr Elna says the pamphlets advertising illegal abortions can be seen everywhere and yet nothing is being done to stop these doctors. However, she says young people need to know the consequences of having unprotected sex. “They need to learn that when you have unprotected sex, you can contract STIs, HIV and fall pregnant, which means that they

should take contraceptives and use condoms.” She advises teenagers not to be scared to talk to their parents about these issues. Dr John adds that there should be awareness campaigns in schools on sex education. “Schools should educate young people

about the dangers of unprotected sex to help reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies,” he says.

*Not her real name