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Rural women still struggle to access abortion services, MPs told



The availability of abortion services is still out of reach for women who are mostly poor and in rural areas, the Commission on Gender Equality That is what CGE said on Wednesday.

Pregnant women faced with such a predicament have no choice but to turn to the deadly illegal termination of pregnancy, despite the fact that the Termination of Pregnancy Choice Act has been in place since 1996 to prevent illegal and dangerous abortions on the street.

The CGE presented its research on the nature and availability of abortion services across the country to members of its portfolio committee on health.

The survey was conducted during a hard lockdown in 2020 and through questionnaires distributed through the state and provincial health departments.

“While we have seen improvements, we still see a significant number of women dying from informal terminations. In addition, we have seen a reduction in illegal terminations throughout our democracy since the law was introduced, but the number of deaths from such procedures persists and is unacceptable, which is why we are pushing for entry into the public service,” he said. CGE CEO Jamela Roberston.

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‘Only four facilities in North Cape’

Women in the Northern Cape were most affected with only four maternity termination facilities available to the vast and mostly rural province.

The Western Cape has the most facilities at 109, with adequate patient care and counseling.

The Free State has 12 abortion facilities and the Northwest has 26. Mpumalanga has 30, two of which are privately owned, Eastern Cape has 45 and KwaZulu-Natal has 50 facilities.

Robertson said the appropriate budgets, training and awareness campaigns about abortion should be channeled by health services Ministry of Health

In areas such as Gauteng, with at least 60 facilities, women have to deal with unwilling staffers who do not perform abortions.

“Reluctance of health professionals to perform abortions is a barrier to the provision of services, it is a very old problem that still persists. We found in the early 2000s, when we were educating workers about the law in the early 2000s, there was a lot about this issue… it still exists, but we have to keep educating,” said Robertson.

She added that departments will be sued through CGE’s legal department if recommendations are not implemented.

Robertson told MPs about an incident at the Chiawelo clinic in Soweto, where a pregnant woman was turned away by nurses last year.

“The reason she got was that the clinic only provided emergency services. The woman approached the CGE for help, we intervened and were assisted in the termination. That is what many encounter at facilities.”

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‘Investments must also be made in other maternity care matters’

ANC MP Annah Gela said that while many counties needed improvement in services, there were other health issues faced by women that required more resources.

“In their findings, they mentioned provinces that are still struggling. Has the CGE met with authorities in these provinces to solve the problems of pregnant women?”

“South Africa also suffers from many health problems, such as NCDs, maternal and infant mortality, so why should there be more investment in pregnancy terminations?” she wondered.

African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Marie Sukers whose party is against termination of pregnancy said there should be a cost analysis of the cost of abortion services across the country.

While other women can choose to have an abortion, other solutions were also available, she added.

“We cannot ignore the fact that abortion is an emotional issue. It is not clear how deliberate objections from nurses and doctors are handled. it seems that when it comes to the length of pregnancy, religion and beliefs of people are not considered.

“We live in a country where African people have serious views about this. We cannot have a situation where abortion is the only alternative for the woman in such a crisis. What we’re seeing here is the aggressive narrative that abortion is a right and should be available, but you can’t just look at it in that context, there are other elements to it.”

Robertson replied that her organization is a Chapter 9 institution that has a watchdog role on gender issues and can only make recommendations and follow-ups.

“Our law indicates how far we can go in succession. This report was prepared in March 2021, but there has been no follow-up report. CGE has a mandate to start from here and end there… other authorities are taking over. Multiple stakeholders are involved in the work.”

In the case of the woman who was rejected at Chiawelo’s clinic, Robertson said, the consequences for the health professionals who rejected her were not covered by CGE

“That’s why we’re presenting these reports to enable additional action and other work. We periodically review and monitor reports and recommendations. Various authorities have to work together on this and, as mentioned, this does not only fall under the Ministry of Health.

Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MP Naledi Chirwa suggested innovative ways to reach rural women, especially through referrals.

“The CGE could do a lot more, you’ve given us reports, but there’s nothing tangible about what you’re planning to do. The presentation is too broad and lacks insight into individual cases for such an important topic,” she said.

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