Throughout the last past month, I have researched and reported on facets of reproductive justice, and how they are experienced by women all over the world in a globalized context. In the last two weeks, I have discussed sexuality and sexual exploitation:. This week, I will be talking about abortion.
Highly contested and strictly regulated around the world, I will be reporting on abortion access in South Africa. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the number of abortions carried out through the continent of Africa rose from 5.6 million in 2003 to 6.4 million in 2008 — a statistic that is attributed to the “increase in women of reproductive age” (“Facts on Abortion in Africa”). Yet, for the growing number of abortions, only 3% were performed in safe conditions (“Facts on Abortion in Africa”). Currently, only four countries in Africa have “relatively liberal abortion laws”: Zambia, Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia (“Facts on Abortion in Africa”).
But interestingly, each of these countries have some history of conquest and colonization: British and Dutch in South Africa, British in Zambia, French in Tunisia, and Portuguese in Cape Verde. This goes to suggest that there may be more of a financial means for abortion services in these countries.
That is why I am particularly interested in South Africa. A staggering 91% of abortion-related deaths fell between 1994 and 1998 (“Facts on Abortion in Africa”), so, it could be arguable that it is more valuable to spend time focusing on other African countries — particularly those with access barriers. At the same time, though, I believe that it is insightful to look at the disparities of abortion access, and how they still manifest today.
In 1997, “The Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996” became law (Dickson 277). This law allowed for the termination of pregnancy “at the women’s request during a period up to and including 12 weeks after gestation, and under defined circumstances” past that point (Dickson 277). Formerly, the “Abortions and Sterilisations Act of 1975” (Dickson 277) required a woman to obtain permission from her doctor, as well as recommendations from two other medical professionals (Dickson 277). As a reflection of these stricter regulations, illegal abortions took place rampantly prior to 1997. According to researcher Kim Dickson, roughly 6,000 to 120,000 illegal abortions took place for every 800 to 1,000 legal procedures per year (Dickson 277). That could be 120 illegal procedures for every legal one.
In talking about South Africa, however, it is important to think about colonization and development: not in context of the United States, but more so in thinking about Europe. Often time, people characterize Africa as underdeveloped. It is often forgotten that South Africa, in particular, is very developed and holds a healthy GDP. It is not that South Africa is lacking in skills and knowledge. Rather, it has faced a long history of discrimination.
From 1948 to 1996, structural discrimination was rampant. South Africa ruled under a system called apartheid: the geographical and developmental separation of races (South African History Online). The system started with land grabbing in 1913. The 1913 Land Act prohibited Black South Africans from accessing vast amounts of land, except in specified areas, to make room for Europeans developers to farm and enlist cheap labor (South African History Online). In a series of events fueled by white supremacy and racial segregation; political, economic, educational, and physical spheres were separated and made unequal. This marginalized and disenfranchised people of color — the vast majority of which make up South Africa — for over eighty years.
Due to the disparities faced by people of color, legal abortion prior to 1997 were really only available for white women. In 1998, 69% of legal abortions were provided to white women: although white individuals made up only 12% of the population at the time (Dickson 278). This means that there was a definite imbalance in women of color seeking illegal abortions, but with the end of apartheid in 1996, marginalized women received more freedoms — right?
Last year, a headline newspaper in South Africa published an article addressing the rise in illegal abortions. Police have discussed efforts to “crack down on illegal abortionists” — a profession that has newly been undertaken by “ruthless opportuntists” (Peters 1). The article continues to address the visibility of propaganda that advertises quick and easy procedures (Peters 1), which readily attracts an “influx of immigrants” that “come to the city” and engage in “unsafe “behaviors, leading to unwanted pregnancy (Peters 1).
Researchers around the world know the plight of unsafe abortions. Often times, abortions conducted by untrained persons result in extreme pain and death (“Facts on Abortion in Africa”). This may be characterized with underdevelopment in Africa, but the fact is, women want safe abortions, and they cannot get them. Furthermore, lack of safe access relates more to European taboos that “date back to colonial codes” (Okeowo 1). Even though South African apartheid is over, there is a clear “mistrust of the state” (Peters 1). While policies are updated and cultural shifts occur, there continues to be a culture of misinformation and exploitation.
How can the westernized world change their views about South Africa (and much of Africa, the continent) in order to disregard myths about underdevelopment? How can we truly take the cost of colonization and globalization into account?
Dickson, Kim Eva et al.. “Abortion Service Provision in South Africa Three Years After Liberalization of the Law”. Studies in Family Planning 34.4 (2003): 277–284. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.
“Facts on Abortion in Africa”. Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, Nov. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.
“The History of Separate Development in South Africa”. South African History Online. South African History Online, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.
Okeowo, Alexis. “Africa’s Abortion Wars”. The New York Times. The New York Times, 15 Dec. 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.
Peters, Sherlissa. “Illegal Abortion Continues to Thrive”. Independent Online. Cape Times, 13 Jul. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2016.