HARARE – Over 70 000 women in Zimbabwe are involved in unsafe pregnancy terminations each year, re-igniting debate on whether the authorities should legalise abortions.
A civic society organisation pushing for safe abortion, Right Here, Right Now Zimbabwe (RHRNZ), has sensationally claimed that 70 000 women — almost the size of the ancient city of Masvingo, which has a population of 76 290 residents — abort every year.
While these statistics could not be independently verified with Obadiah Moyo’s Health and Child Care ministry, they sound alarm bells for those concerned about the health of the girl child and HIV/Aids lobbyists who worry about the risks associated with unprotected sex.
In a report posted on its twitter account, RHRNZ said women in Zimbabwe were at risk 200 times more than their South African counterparts, where abortion is legal.
It is illegal in Zimbabwe in terms of the Termination of Pregnancy Act enacted in 1977 for one to abort except in limited circumstances, where a person would have been raped.
But even though abortion is illegal, Zimbabwe has a policy on post- abortion care – a de facto recognition of the reality on the ground.
Civic society organisations are, however, seeking to have the law repealed and allow women to legally abort.
“Illegal abortion results in at least 20 000 maternal deaths, approximately 56 500 Zimbabwean adolescents do not want to become pregnant but are not using contraceptives, abortion in Zimbabwe contributes about 16 percent of maternal deaths,” RHRNZ said.
This comes at a time when Zimbabwe on Friday joined the rest of the world to commemorate the International Day of Safe Abortion.
The day was first celebrated as a day of action for decriminalisation of abortion in Latin America and the Caribbean in 1990.
In 2011, the Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights officially declared September 28 as an international day.
In a statement on International Day of Safe Abortion, Gender Links, said unwanted pregnancies have a profound effect on the lives of women and girls.
“According to the World Health Organisation, safe abortions are one of the safest and simplest medical procedures in existence. Yet, with abortion mostly illegal and highly frowned upon in most southern African countries, unsafe abortion accounts for 10 percent to 13 percent of maternal mortality in the region.
“In the southern African attitudes survey, nearly half (45 percent women and 44 percent men) said they agreed or strongly agreed that a woman had a right to terminate her pregnancy within the first trimester,” the organisation said.
The Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAIDS), a member of the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance also added its voice describing as “retrogressive’ punitive measures meted out on those that terminate pregnancy in the country.
“The increasing retrogressive and punitive legislative frameworks and policies denying women’s access to safe abortion and freedom of choice, criminalising abortion, and limiting access to comprehensive reproductive rights and health, contributing to high rates of morbidity and mortality, particularly in developing countries is a cause for concern,” SAfAIDS said.
SAfAIDS said the war on and politicisation of women’s bodies continues, denying women and girls full enjoyment of fundamental human rights and reaching their fullest potential is short-lived.
“Our call is for continuous sustained advocacy for and action towards promoting access to safe abortion throughout the year – and not just on 28th September – to reduce adverse consequences of unsafe abortion on adolescent girls and women’s health and well-being.
“When they are denied access to effective contraception and safe abortion services, they are at risk of poor health outcomes, have reduced productivity, and the well-being of their families and development of their communities is staggered,” said SAfAIDS.