‘She used a shotgun to abort and died’

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The horror stories are endless. Young, local women have used needles, matchsticks, pins, straws, pens and other objects to abort. Mmegi Correspondent, NNASARETHA KGAMANYANE reports on disturbing revelations by doctors on the plight of desperate and disinclined mothers

Local healthcare workers have seen it all. When young women find themselves pregnant, anything can happen. It can be a moment of unparalled joy, the promise of a new chapter in one’s life and the pitter-patter of little feet.

Or it could be the moment when a young mother puts a gun in between her legs and pulls the trigger.

In that particular incident, a doctor reveals that the foetus died. And the young mother too.

Abortions are illegal in Botswana except under three circumstances:

l Pregnancy as a result of rape, defilement or incest.

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

l The unborn child would 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.

The law has resulted in many women opting for backyard abortions, the unsafe operations carried out by pseudo-midwives and other charlatans, eager to make a quick bucks off the suffering of the desperate.

On World Blood Donor Day last week, doctors uncharacteristically revealed that unsafe abortions were among the leading downward drivers on national stocks of  blood.

Prior to that, however, revelations were made on the methods used by pregnant women who have reached the end of their ropes.

Needles, matchsticks, pins, straws, pens, coathangers.

According to government, the major reasons Batswana opt for unsafe abortions are:

l Not financially ready for the pregnancy and child rearing

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

l Family Planning method failure

l Deserted by partner

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

l Pressure from family, peers and partners

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

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

Experts say the elephant in the room, in that list of reasons, is the existence of anti-abortion laws.  The law, they say, leaves women with little choice but to opt for the unscrupulous backyard physicians who provide the blackmarket service for the right price.

Health sector workers say young girls in rural areas are the most affected, as they have little access to education and are often at the mercy of more powerful, wealthier men.

These girls often find themselves pregnant at very young ages.

Increasingly, more voices are questioning the law, particularly given its antiquity. Until 1991, the Penal Code did not allow abortions under any circumstance, but some sections of the health care sector are lobbying for further loosening of the law in the eventual push towards legalisation.

Mahalapye East MP and Assistant Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Botlogile Tshireletso, is a long time campaigner for the legalisation of abortion.

“Many people have strong and divergent opinions about abortion, but I believe the legalisation of abortion may save lives of both the mother and the baby as there would be qualified counsellors who will be focusing on mindset change and highlight issues pertaining to the importance of motherhood and raising a baby.

“With legal abortion clinics in place, more attention will be channelled towards counselling and mothers might change their minds after counselling and opt to keep the baby, hence a life will be saved,” she said, during a previous parliamentary session.

This week at a health conference, national maternal mortality coordinator, Morrison Sinvuya, added his thoughts to the debate.

“Many of the pregnant women cannot  afford to pay for abortion pills or to cross over to neighbouring countries for abortions,” he said.

“We remove terrible instruments from most of these women as they seek to abort in the backyard where most of them end up losing their lives.

“Isn’t it time to be thinking of progressive ways to perform abortions safely?

“I feel that it is, because most women end up dying trying to terminate unwanted pregnancies. I will push the government to consider legalising abortion.”

Sinvuya pointed out that abortion was among the top killers of many women in Botswana, due to complications it triggers.

He said today, more women are dying from abortions, when compared to previous years.

“It is clear that in recent years to date and more especially in December, a lot of women abort their pregnancies and some end up losing their lives.

“Abortion is the number one killer of pregnant women in the country.”

According to Sinvuya, in Nyangabgwe Referral and Princess Marina, the country’s two largest public hospitals, abortion-related issues are staggering.

Nyangabgwe had 131 miscarriages in 2013 while PMH recorded 200 in the same year. In 2013, 90 women died as a result.

“Today abortion  has shot up to the top. Women are dying trying to terminate their pregnancies in the backyard unlike in the past where abortion used to be at the lower end of the list factors accounting for the death of pregnant women,” he explained.

In the past, Sinvuya says, loss of blood during labour was the main driver of maternal mortality, followed by HIV-related diseases.

Abortions were further down the list.

“As a nation, we need to take stock of the challenges we are facing and be able to aggressively but soberly and honestly debate issues until we reach a well informed decision.

“If abortions are legal, many women’s lives could be saved as they perform them safely in an environment where health workers would be present to monitor their health.

“If we are thinking of reducing the mortality rate, we should empower our women with education.

“They should be able to negotiate family planning, discuss sexual intercourse with their partners and know the need to eat good nutrition more especially the pregnant women so that they have enough blood and nutrients in their bodies.”

It is expected that the Winter Parliament could once again hear a plea for the lives of pregnant young women.

Editor's Comment
What about employees in private sector?

How can this be achieved when there already is little care about the working conditions of those within the private sector employ?For a long time, private sector employees have been neglected by their employers, not because they cannot do better to care for them, but because they take advantage of government's laxity when it comes to protecting and advocating for public sector employees, giving the cue to employers within the private sector...

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