SMS platform set to ensure safe abortions

Published Mar 4, 2017


Johannesburg - They advertise their illicit abortion services, and cellphone numbers, on posters stuck across the city.

But illegal abortions are unreliable and unsafe, and that’s why Phephisile Mathizerd has helped start a new initiative to link women to safe abortions in Gauteng - at their fingertips.

The new initiative, called FEM, is designed to give girls and women access to safe and legal abortions through an SMS platform.

The user sends the word FEM to 30816, and after answering a few questions on the platform, they then receive a referral SMS to a legal and safe health facility that provides abortions nearby.

The initiative, which was launched last week, was created by safe2choose, a social enterprise which is part of an international movement for reproductive justice and access to safe abortion.

“Young women go to these illegal places while the government has clinics that provide abortion,” explains Mathizerd, the associate programme officer at FEM.

FEM has six clinics and hospitals which its team recommends to users around Gauteng. “We’ve personally verified the government facilities that we recommend.

“We’ve visited about 13 service providers while others did not meet our health standards and security needs.

“Our focus is on quality, not the numbers of clinics.”

To expand the initiative’s reach, more clinics and hospitals will be verified in the next two weeks “to service more of the province”.

It’s crucial that an abortion is carried out “at the right time, at the right facility, by the right people”.

Dignity is vital. “We link the users with information that also includes whom they should go to when they get to the facility. One should not arrive at a clinic and explain at reception what they are there for and then stand in a queue with others who may be there for abortions. There isn’t dignity in that.”

Research carried out by Ipas, a global non-profit organisation which opposes unsafe abortions, revealed how 30% of South African women are not aware that abortion is legal, while half of all abortions are performed illegally in unsafe environments.

“Unsafe abortions have a massive impact on young women - the members of local society most impacted by poverty and unemployment,” said Mathizerd.

This, she explains, is the main reason the initiative uses an SMS service. The pilot phase began in Gauteng, and will gradually roll out to other provinces.

“We’re hoping this initiative closes the gap by providing vital information to South Africans most in need. The message is simple: if you need help or access to information, you just have to send an SMS.”

Saturday Star

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