#MyBodyMyChoice: How the US abortion debate impacts SA

A rising tide of anger has engulfed the US. No sooner as Alabama signed its controversial abortion law into existence, the country’s pro-choice campaigners went into overdrive.

A nation that was once deemed as liberal has now been compared to a conservative state, likened to the fictional Republic of Gilead as seen in Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale.

Things don’t bode well for South Africa as well. In 2017, the Trump administration blocked all US foreign aid to organisations that offered abortion services, counselling, referrals or advocacy. 

South African NGOs was included under the list of international organisations receiving funding from the US under the “global gag rule”. Could the Alabama ruling have far-reaching consequences to include SA? We don’t know, but as far as our right to terminate track record goes, these are the facts:

About 52 percent of South African women are serviced by the illegal abortion market, according to the Gutthmaker Foundation. It’s a thriving trade that peddles its services on trains, buses and just about any public space.

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Margeaux Hartline, dressed as a handmaid, protests against a ban on nearly all abortions outside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery. Picture: AP

Since 1996 abortions have been legal in SA under the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (CTOPA), but the stats show a spike in Termination of Pregnancy (TOP). 

It’s a worrying trend, believes Ipas, an international NGO trying to prevent unsafe abortions around the world. In their view, SA’s health system is failing young women. The question is why? Because, according to Amnesty International, only 360 of the country’s government facilities provide safe abortions.

“Women in South Africa continue to face barriers in accessing safe abortion services. This is due to severe stigma, refusal by healthcare providers to provide services due to their religious or moral beliefs, lack of information on the legally safeguarded rights under the CTOPA, and poor infrastructure and limited availability of safe abortion services,” said Amnesty. “Due to these barriers, women and adolescent girls often resort to illegal and unsafe abortion services.”

It’s for this reason that Marie Stopes South Africa and The Blue Ribbon have embarked on a public campaign called My Body. My Choice to empower women with access to accurate information and resources about safe abortions, so that they can make informed choices when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health.

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Picture: Instagram

“The Blue Ribbon campaign is a platform through which we are able to raise awareness about women’s legal rights to a safe abortion in South Africa. We want to erase the stigma attached to the word, ‘abortion’,” says Whitney Chinogwenya, head of marketing for Marie Stopes South Africa. 

“My Body. My Choice is more than a slogan – it’s an assurance that we support women every step of the way.”

Like any controversial debate, there are opposing parties. Peter Williams is the executive officer of charity trust, Right To Life UK. During a debate with pro-choice activists he argued that when we properly understand what rights are, we understand the reasonable limits to what we have the right to autonomously do.

“We can’t pursue any good or fulfil any obligation at all if our very lives could be taken away from us by others as they saw fit. The natural law entails therefore that every human being, for the purposes of fulfilling that good within their nature, has a right not to be to killed,” he said.

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