Increase in unsafe abortions

2015-06-30 09:15
Posters advertising ‘safe’ abortions cover a wall on Boshoff Street.

Posters advertising ‘safe’ abortions cover a wall on Boshoff Street. (Jonathan Burton)

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KNITTING needles, spoons and ­dish-washing liquid. These are some of the tools illegal backyard abortion clinics are using to terminate the pregnancies of young, vulnerable and scared women in Pietermaritzburg.

A Pietermaritzburg nurse, who would not be named, said the illegal abortion industry was “huge” in Pietermaritzburg and KwaZulu-Natal, and that women around the city were “losing their lives” due to unsterile operations performed by individuals “with no medical knowledge”.

“It is a big problem. I have had so many women come in, haemorrhaging to death from botched abortions at these backyard clinics.

“These illegal clinics are using forceps to open up the cervix and are then digging the foetus out using knitting needles or spoons,” the nurse said, adding that parts of foetuses were often left in the cervix or uterus.

She said a major problem in Pietermaritzburg was the use of Cytotec, a prescription drug used to terminate pregnancies. “These illegal clinics are getting Cytotec from pharmacies illegally for around R60, and are then selling [it] to young girls and women for R800.”

According to the South African Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, the termination of a pregnancy may only be done “at a facility designated by the Minister [of Health] by notice in the Gazette for that purpose”.

The act states that an abortion may only be done “during the first 12 weeks of the gestation period of her pregnancy and from the 13th week upwards, may only be done by a medical practitioner if the woman’s life is at risk or there exists a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer from a severe physical or mental abnormality”.

The nurse said illegal clinics did not care how far along the woman was into her pregnancy, and she had women come in with severe haemorrhaging from an illegal abortion that took place at 20 weeks or more.

Marie Stopes advocacy and engagement manager Andrea Thompson said their clinics regularly received calls and visits from women who had been elsewhere for abortions, often in unsafe conditions. “Some have suffered infections or perforations to their uterus caused by unsafe providers. Given that we are not a triage facility, we often are forced to refer these women elsewhere for emergency assistance.

“The safe way to seek an abortion is make sure to go to a legitimate provider. That can be a public health facility, a private doctor or a Marie Stopes centre.

“The important things to pay attention to are that they provide a proper medical examination and pre-consultation which explains all the options available, and that they offer aftercare services in case of any complications. A safe provider has a fixed address and a landline phone number, and follows the rules in the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, including only providing services up to 20 weeks’ gestation.”

Thompson said it was not legal to buy medical abortion pills without a doctor’s consultation, and “anyone offering to deliver them to your house or workplace is breaking the law”.

She added that “immediate complications from unsafe abortions include severe bleeding, uterine perforation, tearing of the cervix, severe damage to the genitals and abdomen, internal infection of the abdomen, and blood poisoning.

“Medium-term complications range from reproductive tract infections and pelvic inflammatory disease to chronic pain. Late complications include increased risk of infertility and ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage or premature delivery in subsequent pregnancies.”

Thompson said awareness was key in reducing the number of women seeking out illegal clinics. “Much more needs to be done to make clear that the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act entitles women in South Africa to safe abortion services, as stigma often drives women to go the unsafe route.”

THE KwaZulu-Natal Depatrtment of Health responded to queries on illegal abortion clinics in KZN with an exerpt from MEC Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo’s 2015 budget speech.

“I will be leading a campaign against illegal abortions in this province. Members would note the proliferation of the advertisements on the lamp-posts and electric boxes promising safe, quick and pain-free abortions.

“All these are illegal abortions and there is nothing safe about them; instead they pose a health risk to the young mothers and women in our country.”

In the speech, he said the campaign’s aim would be to bring together different groups “from around the province to work together in an anti-illegal backstreet abortion campaign and to build partnerships with health professionals, governments, civil society officials and human rights bodies”.

It would also promote the legitimacy of the right to safe abortion and initiatives concerning safe motherhood and family planning.

“The success of this campaign also depends on partnerships with South African Police Services and National Prosecuting Authority. I therefore would like to take this opportunity to extend the invitation to the Security Cluster to participate in this important campaign in order to help bring an end to this onslaught on our young mothers.”

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  abortions

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