Calls for decriminalised abortion grow louder

Crossroads: More Batswana are in favour of legalised abortion
Crossroads: More Batswana are in favour of legalised abortion

The Botswana Family Welfare Association says a recent countrywide tour to gauge views on abortion found high approval of the decriminalisation of the procedure. Officials tell Mmegi Staff Writer, SHARON MATHALA, that women are tired of motherhood being used as a punishment for ‘mistakes'

Botswana Family Welfare Association (BOFWA) sampled views in areas such as Maun, Francistown, Mochudi, Kanye, Gaborone, Kasane and others. And the verdict is: Batswana want abortion legalised, but discouraged.

The tour included debates and dialogue held with members of the community, explains BOFWA programmes director, Kabelo Poloko, who adds that the initiative was taken after noting rising cases of backstreet abortions, which often end badly for the women. Nyangabgwe and Princess Marina, the country’s two largest public hospitals, are witnessing staggering cases where backstreet abortions go wrong and troubled mothers are forced to seek help in formal health institutions.

In 2013, Princess Marina recorded 200 miscarriages, while Nyangabgwe had 131 miscarriages. At least 90 women died as a result.

Another perspective of the problem can be found in the Botswana Maternal Mortality Ratio report, which indicates that of the 91 maternal deaths that occurred in 2013, Unspecified Failed Attempted Abortion accounted for 15 of these.

“We needed an opinion from the community,” says Poloko.

“What we got was that most Batswana feel abortion should be legalised. They say it is about time abortion becomes legal.”

From the countrywide debates, most Batswana believe raising a child is not an easy task. It requires emotional and social commitment above everything else, as well as financial stability.

“Motherhood should not be used as punishment for having unprotected sex and falling pregnant,” one woman shouted during the Gaborone leg of the tour.

“If a person feels they are not ready to raise or even have a child, this means the pregnancy is unwanted.  Forcing that foetus to grow into a human being is much worse than allowing the mother to have a safe abortion.” “That’s why they turn to these backyard abortion facilities.”  According to the woman, in many cases, unwanted pregnancies grow up into poor children trapped in unconducive environments without the necessary care and support.

Abortions are illegal in Botswana except under three circumstances:

l Pregnancy as a result of rape, defilement or incest

l If the pregnancy puts the life of the mother at risk or may cause harm to her physical or mental health

l If the unborn child will suffer or later develop physical or mental abnormality.

Outside these scenarios, anyone who commits abortion or who assists someone else to do so, can be jailed for up to seven years. This is not enough, Batswana say. In Maun many commentators argued that a fourth circumstance should be added to the law, to support abortion for social and economic reasons. “This is also an issue of class. The rich or rather those who can afford simply cross the border to countries that allow for abortion.

“Making it illegal does not solve the problem. Those who cannot afford it end up visiting the backyard solution, which at times leads to death,” said one villager during the Maun leg of the tour. She added: “It is not like within the community we do not know which places these backyard abortions are done. We know who they are”.

The law as it stands is blamed for the rise in backstreet abortions, the unsafe operations carried out by pseudo-midwives and other charlatans, eager to make a quick buck off the suffering of the desperate. In a previous report, Mmegi disclosed that some desperate mothers in Francistown were using a technique known as ‘urine therapy’ to conduct their own abortions.  The technique involves injecting one’s own morning urine and once the foetus is disrupted, rushing to a clinic and claiming the pregnancy has had complications.

 “In some locations in the city, pregnant women use surgical spirits that can damage their kidneys as these are for external use only,” says Caroline Setshego-Mmopi a nurse at Donga Clinic and coordinator of sexual heath and sexually transmitted diseases.  While the law has been blamed for backstreet abortions, the reasons why more women want abortions in the first place, vary according to whom you are speaking to. According to the government, there are seven main reasons why women undergo illegal abortions. These include:

* Not being financially ready for the pregnancy and child rearing

* Fear of discovery by family (dishonour, shame, disrespect)

* Family Planning method failure

* Deserted by partner

* Pregnancy as a result of abuse e.g. rape, defilement, incest

* Pressure from family, peers and partners

* Fear of loss of opportunities e.g. education and employment.

* Lack of information on available services and client rights to abortion

For Poloko, there is yet another reason many would feel uncomfortable and contemplate abortion.“Batswana do not have sexual discipline.  You will find that in most instances the woman stands to lose her entire life because she had unprotected sex with someone other than her partner and fell pregnant. “Or vice versa, a man has impregnated a woman outside the home.

“They then turn to these illegal facilities and endanger their lives.” As legislators prepare for the final session of the calendar year, pregnant mothers and the majority of Batswana according to BOFWA’s survey, will be hoping one Member of Parliament will broach the subject of amending the law.

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