Five years after abortion was legalised in South Africa, there is little evidence to show that women have overcome the fear of going to public clinics and hospitals to have an abortion. Studies conducted in 1994 and 2000 show there has been no change in the number of women admitted to hospitals with incomplete abortions, researchers from the Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU) told Parliament yesterday. But there was a decrease in the number of unsafe abortions conducted by unqualified persons or in an inappropriate medical environment. Dr Heather Brown, of the RHRU, said it was too soon to see tangible results as abortion was legalised only in 1996.
At public hearings held in Parliament yesterday to check on progress in implementing the legislation, Brown said the rate of deaths and infection had decreased, particularly in younger women. She said the overwhelming majority of women who were still aborting outside designated facilities were doing so because they did not know their rights. Brown urged health authorities to improve information about termination of pregnancy by embarking on a public education campaign on abortion rights. Staff at public hospitals who harassed women seeking abortions was another issue that needed particular attention.
Many women who were interviewed by the researchers said they chose to seek help from general practitioners - who were not registered to perform abortions - because they felt they would receive better treatment than in public clinics and hospitals. The portfolio committee on health and the Reproductive Rights Alliance (RRA), an NGO representing organisations, and other structures that are active in the reproductive health field hosted the hearings in Parliament jointly. However, anti-abortion activists said they were outraged about not being invited to speak at the public hearings and wrote an open letter to the chairperson of the health committee, James Ngculu, to complain. But Ngculu said the hearings had been publicised by adverts in newspapers and that pro-life activists had not responded to these invitations. (Source: The Star, 8 May 2002)