Call for unit to root out illicit abortions

Xolani Mbanjwa, IOL

This is the view of Sikhonjiwe Masilela, the Gauteng department of health's director of maternal, child, women's health and nutrition - the body which grants operating licences for abortion institutions in the province. It was time to root out unscrupulous abortionists, he said. Maybe it is time we employ health workers to investigate all facilities and get rid of those that put women's lives at risk. A unit like that would have a monitoring role and deal pro-actively with such practices, said Masilela. He was speaking after an expose in the Pretoria News indicating a proliferation of abortion facilities in the city, probably run illegally.

Despite the fact that 70% of provincial hospitals, 47 community health institutions and more than 50% of private hospitals offered safe abortions in Gauteng, women continued to opt for backstreet abortions for many reasons, he said. Reporting backstreet facilities to the police did not lead to positive results, he said. The problem is that these illegal facilities do not advertise their locations, only their names and cellphone numbers, so it is difficult for police to detect them. Masilela said a reason which forced women to go to illegal facilities was that many women wait until it is too late to have an abortion.

They come to hospitals while in their second trimester and we can't conduct abortions. But because these illegal people are willing to do it for money, they put women's lives in danger for financial reasons. Masilela said thorough assessment criteria had to be met before a facility was granted a licence to conduct abortions. We look at whether the location is in the business district and whether it provides contraception after termination of pregnancy. 

We assess whether it has the capacity to call emergency services when there is a problem. We look at whether the staff are trained. We assess whether a facility has toxic and medical waste disposal capabilities because disposing of the aborted foetus and other substances which can contaminate the environment. We also need the local council to grant a health certificate. 

These facilities need to meet these occupational health and safety standards. If they don't when they apply for a licence we advise them on how to improve them. Despite a huge percentage of applicants being successful in obtaining licences, backstreet abortions and facilities are not decreasing. Masilela urged the community to be vigilant. He blamed the media for not playing a positive role when illegal abortionists placed adverts.

We need a vigilant community to tell us about these facilities and we need the media, especially newspapers, to scrutinise those people who place adverts about abortions. Doctors For Life and Marie Stopes - the private abortion group - say many women suffer from the baby-dumping syndrome after a pregnancy because they have had incomplete abortions at illegal abortion facilities and are forced to give birth to unwanted babies.