by Tshego Senne
The conversation about abortion is in no way a new one.
For decades, people have chosen one side of the pro-choice or ‘choose life’ coin even though it feels ludicrous to argue about any individual’s right to do as they please with their body.
It’s especially ironic when those who believe so strongly in keeping a foetus alive possess the kind of compassion that frequently dies down once that child is carried to term and needs resources to stay alive.
But beyond the coin toss is a conversation that isn’t happening regularly enough. One about forced and coerced abortions.
In a recent Twitter thread by Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl @sindivanzyl, she posted how a woman shared how she suspected her boyfriend had inserted abortion pills into her vagina without her knowledge when she was 16 weeks pregnant.
Outlined in this Bhekisisa article by Pontsho Pilane, the woman recounts how she was admitted to hospital and was told by her doctor that there were dissolved abortion pills inside her vagina, putting her pregnancy at risk.
She wasn’t the only one who had shared similar stories with Dr van Zyl. Pilane reports that 11 woman approached Dr van Zyl with their experiences, more with the same scenario, others with tales of spiked drinks, and horrifyingly, one that involved being held down by family while a doctor gave her the medication.
Frighteningly enough, forced abortions are not a new occurrence.
While Dr van Zyl has noted that she has never seen a case similar to these in her own work, they seem to be more common than we care to admit.
What’s scarier (and that she calls out in her thread) is that it’s healthcare professionals that would have to have been involved to dispense the tablets and explain how to induce the abortion.
While illegal abortions seem to be one of the larger problems in the journey towards inclusive sexual and reproductive health on our continent, the case against forced abortions needs to be made more often.
Pro-choice means allowing those who fall pregnant to make the choices they deem best for themselves – whether that means termination or carrying to term.
Sexual and reproductive justice and equality means fixing the broken systems in place to allow any individual who falls pregnant to make their choice without coercion or violence of any manner.
The Choice On Termination of Pregnancy Act states that, “the termination of a pregnancy may only take place with the informed consent of the pregnant woman” meaning that neither partner nor parent/guardian may override this consent except in the case of a pregnant woman who is mentally disabled or unconscious.
Upon speaking to a young black woman lawyer who chooses to stay anonymous, I found out that the victims of a forced abortion have the following legal recourse:
- They can lay a criminal charge of “assault with intent of doing grievous bodily harm” against the perpetrator.
- If the forced abortion poses a threat against the victim’s life, the perpetrator can also be charged with “attempted murder” charge.
- Health professionals who administer medication to induce forced abortions can be charged under the National Health Act. They can also be reported to the Health Professions Council of SA for unethical conduct which would lead to a fine, suspension or removal from the register. This then means they wouldn’t be able to practice medicine anymore.
- Furthermore, anyone who forces/coerces someone into an abortion is in contravention of the Constitution, which protects the right of persons to make decisions concerning reproduction and to security in and control over their bodies.
- Victims of forced/coerced abortions have the right to open a case against the perpetrator. They can request a woman officer and be interviewed in a private room.
The rate at which forced abortions occur could be a number we’ll never be aware of as many of them occur to hide away a pregnancy rather than assist those who are pregnant make healthy and well-informed decisions they’re happy to live with.