There are often myths and misconceptions about abortion that scare women who are already in a vulnerable situation. The main misconception about abortion is that it’s rare and that certain people have abortions. Society often thinks it knows what “kind of woman” has an abortion. It’s a fallacy. MBALI ZWANE rounded up eight answers to questions about abortion you may be too embarrassed to ask.
1. Who can have an abortion?
The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (1996) enshrines the legal right of a woman to decide to end a pregnancy in South Africa. A woman is defined by the act as a female-bodied person of any age. While healthcare providers should counsel a woman under 18 to seek guidance from a trusted adult, she cannot be turned away for the service if she chooses to continue. Abortion is available for any reason up to 12 weeks of pregnancy – and in cases of rape/incest, health risk or socio-economic hardship, up to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Abortion care is available free of charge to lower income women in the public sector as well as at a cost in the private sector.
2. Are women who have abortions killing “unborn babies/children”?
No, while some may have varying personal views about when life begins the law is very clear that a “baby” is afforded the right to life when he or she is born. Abortion is not killing a person, it is terminating a pregnancy – a pregnancy that is taking place within a woman’s body – a body which she has legal and moral autonomy to control and make decisions about.
— Jacq Jones (@sugarjacq) March 30, 2016
3. Is abortion a women’s issue?
Sadly, abortion can be described as a “women’s issue” but that is only because it is so highly stigmatised, over-regulated and under unnecessary scrutiny. What abortion truly is, is a healthcare service like any other – which should only concern a patient and her healthcare provider and whoever else in her life she chooses to include in decision-making process.
4. Do women have abortions for selfish reasons?
Women have abortions for all kinds of reasons – and each is unique to the woman in question. The accusation of a woman being selfish is unfair and fails to acknowledge women’s rights but it also trivialises motherhood and childbirth by dismissing pregnancy as a mere inconvenience. We need to trust women.
5. Is post-abortion syndrome a thing? What causes it?
Post-abortion syndrome has little clinical basis and is often a distraction tool used to imply women will suffer or regret after having an abortion. That’s not to say that some women don’t face emotional challenges, feelings of remorse or regret or overall sadness after an abortion, but it’s a very unique and personal experience that does not have a formal psychological diagnosis. Stigma plays a major role, in that most women who suffer emotionally after an abortion point to the judgement they have faced from their community, partner or family about their decision. Others experience resentment in cases where they were pressured by a husband or boyfriend to have an abortion, or where their family insisted. This all points to how important it is to respect and trust women’s abilities to make pregnancy decisions for themselves. Many negative feelings are related to the unwanted pregnancy, not the abortion, which can sometimes bring feelings of relief.
6. Do many women regret their abortions later?
Studies have shown that the vast majority of women not only don’t regret their abortions but feel a sense of relief at having control over their own future and the decision of when and with whom to have children. A study out of the US (no such stats are currently available for South Africa) found over 95% of women polled reported not regretting their abortions. Those who do feel regret are often those who have been harshly judged by those in their support network for having had an abortion.
7. Is there a link between abortion and breast cancer?
Not only have there been no confirmed clinical studies relating abortion to breast cancer, there is significant evidence that this myth was deliberately created and spread by anti-choice activists hoping to scare women.
8. Is abortion more dangerous than childbirth?
The risk of dying from childbirth is about 14 times that of early abortion, and the overall abortion complication rate is extremely low, about 25 times lower than childbirth. Early abortions (both medical and surgical) which make up about 80% of all abortions in South Africa are very safe. The risk increases with the gestational age (time period) of the pregnancy, which is why it’s important for women considering ending a pregnancy to seek assistance as soon as possible. Abortion in the first trimester is a safe and simple medical procedure, one that can be quickly and routinely performed even by a nurse as well as a doctor. Having an abortion will not adversely affect a woman’s future fertility. Legalised abortion has had a positive impact on the health of South African women by providing them with a safer way to terminate their pregnancies. There are some significant dangers posed by backstreet, unsafe abortion however as these are performed by undesignated, often untrained people.
It’s impossible to say what a world without abortion stigma looks like sadly – but it would certainly mean women could have their decisions acknowledged and respected without scrutiny from others.
Answers to the questions were provided by Marie Stopes South Africa