Pretoria - Healthcare stakeholders have called on communities to rid themselves of the stigma that has continued to inhibit women’s access to safe and legal abortions.
Abortion consultant with Ipas South Africa, Dr Makgoale Magwentshu, also a senior capacity-building and policy adviser for sexual and reproductive health, said the stigma surrounding abortions had continued to act as a barrier to ensuring women had access to safe and legal abortions.
Ipas is an international, non-governmental organisation that increases access to safe abortions and contraception and, said the consultant, it was for this reason that communities had to start by working on clarifying their values because of the central role they played in everyone’s life.
Speaking at a round-table discussion on International Safe Abortion Day this week, Magwentshu said in commemorating the day it was important that people looked to clarify their values and in particular what they believed in relation to abortion.
She said resources to conduct safe abortions were still in dire need, but all the same, it was crucial for healthcare systems to ensure there was continuous access, availability and high-quality facilities available after abortions as well.
“We need to get to a point where we are able to treat the patient with dignity and respect, and make sure that the environment they find themselves in is enabling.
“Also, using the value clarification principle as a general strategy, we can improve attitudes and behaviour for abortion facilities, and in doing so be able to offer these crucial services to different audiences such as members of the LGBTQI+ and disabled persons.”
Magwentshu stressed that the stigma alone negatively influenced access to safe abortions services, decision making and behaviours, even though the Constitution was clear on the right to access such services.
She said what also aggravated the situation was the low-quality treatment received from healthcare professionals as a result of stigma, particularly for older women.
Professor Eddie Mhlanga, an obstetrician, gynaecologist and sexual reproductive health rights activist, explained how the availability of the Ipas manual vacuum aspiration procedure stood to be a groundbreaking technological advancement as it could be used by any registered medical professional in maternal care.
According to healthcare experts, the manual vacuum aspiration is a minor surgical procedure using a hand-held device that uses gentle suction to remove the contents of a uterus, and was safe to use on pregnancies of up to 12-14 weeks.
“Abortion is not a thing that you can plan and decide on in six months; it is an emergency, it is life-saving but if not done properly it can be life-threatening.
“Many women are still dying from unsafe abortions, and the complications come from the termination itself or the evacuation of products remaining in the uterus.”
Mhlanga said sexual education was a necessity, and it was worrying that some healthcare professionals did not even know how some of the contraceptives worked.
More worryingly, Mhlanga said, was that South Africa was experiencing a contraceptives shortage.
According to the World Health Organization, between 2015 and 2019 there were on average 73.3 million safe and unsafe abortions taking place globally each year.
The organisation indicated that three out of four abortions that occurred in Africa and Latin America were unsafe, with the risk of dying from an unsafe abortion being the highest in Africa.
It added that the practice of extracting confessions from women seeking emergency medical care as a result of an illegal abortion was often what ended up putting women’s lives at risk.
“The legal requirement for doctors and other healthcare personnel to report cases of women who have undergone an abortion delays care and increases the risks to women’s health and lives. UN human rights standards call on countries to provide immediate and unconditional treatment to anyone seeking emergency medical care.”