SA's illegal abortion rate alarmingly high

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Despite the fact that abortion is legal in South Africa, it is estimated that between 52% and 58% of the estimated 260 000 abortions that take place in South Africa every year are illegal.

This came up during the Abortion and Reproductive Justice Conference underway in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape.

The Department of Social Development, in partnership with the Critical Studies in Sexualities and Reproduction Research Programme, Rhodes University, the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition and the International Campaign for Women’s Right to Safe Abortion officially opened an international conference titled ‘Abortion and Reproductive Justice: The Unfinished Revolution III’.

The conference, scheduled to take place from 8 - 12 July 2018, is attended by 285 delegates from 26 countries across the globe.

The conference builds on the two previous conferences held in Canada in August 2014 and Northern Ireland in July 2016. It comes at an opportune moment as issues relating to abortion and reproductive justice have once more come to the fore in the global development agenda.

The South African Constitution protects the right of persons to make decisions concerning reproduction and to security in and control over their bodies.

The conference also builds on the ongoing work under the leadership of the Inter-Ministerial Committee established by Cabinet to oversee the implementation of the Population Policy, the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy, as well as the coordination of the United Nations Population Fund Country Support Programme.

In 2015, Cabinet approved the National Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights Framework Strategy (2014-2019). The strategy resonates with the vision of the Population Policy of South Africa (1998).

In 1997, Parliament enacted the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (Act No. 92 of 1996), which places an obligation on government to provide reproductive health services to all, including safe conditions under which the right of choice can be exercised without fear or harm.

However, 21 years after the passing of the Act, serious challenges still persist regarding its implementation.

Poor access to services

 The Amnesty International report in 2017 found that less than 7% of the country’s 3 880 public health facilities perform termination of pregnancy. This is far less than the 505 medical facilities designated by the Department of Health to perform terminations of pregnancy across South Africa.

Speaking at the official opening of the conference on Monday, Social Development's Chief Director of Population and Development, Jacques van Zuydam said when they evaluated progress made in the implementation of the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action in South Africa in 2014, they found that many challenges remained in government’s endeavour to realise the full sexual and reproductive health and rights of the people.

“Persistent gender inequality in the economic, social and private spheres continue to undermine the sexual and reproductive rights of women. South Africa’s Cabinet decided in 2015 that Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) must be one of our country’s Population Policy priorities.

“This specifically included the sexual and reproductive health and rights of adolescents, and a recommendation that a reproductive justice approach should be developed to guide our work in all spheres,” Van Zuydam said.

Professor of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand, Cathi Albertyn, said reproductive justice goes hand-in-hand with access to reproductive decisions.

“Women need constructive social recognition, financial recognition as well as reproductive freedom. Women need to be afforded the freedom of choice with their bodies,” Albertyn said.

The programme themes for the conference are health systems, histories of abortion, and abortion politics; education, interventions and treatment; theory and methods in research; social contexts and communications and activism and advocacy.  -