'Half of SA pregnancies end in abortion'

Published Mar 9, 2007


Fifty percent of all pregnancies in South Africa end up in abortion and more than 500 000 women have had the procedure done since the introduction of the new laws in 1997.

The statistics were released on Thursday at a symposium on the issue organised by Ipas, an international NGO trying to prevent unsafe abortions around the world.

Ipas has voiced concern over increases in the number of women opting for abortion, saying it showed that South Africa's health authorities were failing young women for not according contraception practices sufficient resources.

Professor Eddie Mhlanga, the head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu Natal, and an Ipas board member, warned at a press conference on Thursday that while there was much to celebrate, the increases were worrying.

They show that 529 410 women have had safe and legal abortions since the introduction of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy (TOP) Act in 1997, with 256 808 of these abortions happening in the past three years.

In Limpopo, the increase in TOP services during the past nine years has spiked from 533 abortions in 1997 to 4 864 last year.

"We can't celebrate the numbers increasing year after year. It would mean us celebrating something failing in our health system because women are not being given a choice, in a perverse way," he said.

Other statistics show that the number of public health facilities providing TOP services has increased by 10 percent in the past two years. A total of 55 percent of facilities authorised to provide abortions perform them, against a 45 percent target set by the national Department of Health.

Mhlanga said it was problematic that condoms and other methods of contraception were not available on weekends and after hours, when they were most needed.

Professor Sam Monokoane, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Medunsa, said that while deaths from unsafe abortions had all but been wiped out since the new laws, backstreet abortions were still occurring.

He singled out Marabastad in Pretoria as being "famous" still as a place where desperate women went to get illegal abortions. The reasons were mainly the long waiting times for abortions at state hospitals, he said.

Ipas has also highlighted that 24 percent of all abortions performed in the country are done in the second trimester, putting the health of women at risk.

Mhlanga said he would like to see all abortions performed during the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

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