Right to choose demanded in South Africa
According to a report in the Johannesburg Star by journalist Zingisa Mkhuma, at least 250,000 illegal abortions are performed in South Africa each year. Activists in the Abortion Reform Action Group (ARAG) told Mkhuma that the backyard abortion "industry" claims many lives, with the toll especially high in rural areas where medical facilities are minimal.
ARAG spokesperson Dr M. Diyer said that it was black women who primarily suffered great physical, mental and psychological pain from these backstreet abortions. She added: "Poverty and desperation also contributes to high incidences of infanticide.
"The government is spending a lot of money treating the after effects instead of legalising abortion and minimising the risks. Some of these women have spent long periods in hospitals suffering from kidney failure and infections."
Dr James McIntyre of the department of obstetrics and gynaecology at Soweto's Baragwanath Hospital, told Mkhuma that a high percentage of backyard abortions were procured by insertion of an object into the womb. Sometimes a herbal mixture or a strong disinfectant was injected into the womb.
More than 30% of the women suffered from sterility as a result of infections, but the post-abortion figure could be higher, McIntyre added.
ARAG says the need for abortion to be legalised in South Africa is pressing. The population explosion and economic problems compound the plight of many women who cannot afford to feed more than one child.
"Women in Khayelitsha squatter camp near Cape Town don't even know the differences between legal and illegal abortions. When they need one they just go and find somebody to do it", Dr Diyer said.
"The government and political organisations need to consider a clause in a future constitution to give women the right to have abortion on demand."