Abortion is not going away, no matter how much you gag it

By Kagure Mugo

There are a few things that scare me: being buried alive, being launched into space, clowns. Recently five white men making the rules that govern half of the global population’s reproductive health decisions joined that list.

A picture has surfaced of some ominous-looking characters looking on as Donald Trump signed the Global Gag Rule. Essentially, this has shut down a key part of access to sexual reproductive health rights – in a world filled with YouPorn, under-age sex, rising STD rates, rampant sexual assault and child marriage, to name a few gems.

For those of you not in the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) know, the Global Gag Rule essentially puts a moratorium on abortion as a family planning option if you are getting some of that sweet, sweet US government funding. This, basically, is everyone. To be precise, the order is ‘a policy that cuts funding to foreign organisations if they provide abortion information, referrals or services, or if they engage in any advocacy on abortion rights with their own funds’.

This policy, previously rescinded by Obama, is back with an orange-tinted vengeance and could greatly hinder the work being done by SRHR individuals and organisations around the world, especially within the African context.

Take the time to speak to any woman who has ever had an abortion and they will tell you that it is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting.

Does this policy help curb abortion?

A 2011 paper by a group of Stanford researchers examined the policy’s impact in sub-Saharan Africa and found that it was associated with an increase in abortions. The abortion rate in cities, where women had more health-care options, did not change, but in the villages the effect was dramatic: There had been a 50% increase in abortions—200 000 more each year—when the policy was in effect.

And we have a lot of villages in Africa…

Abortion is never an easy choice

When every year some 3 million girls aged 15 to 19 undergo unsafe abortions, one needs to question why someone would risk their lives like this.

The denunciation of women who seek an abortion as an option stems from a complete misunderstanding of what having an abortion entails and of the reasons a woman may choose to have an abortion. The idea held by many who oppose it is that abortions are had by women who are simply too lazy to take the Pill or too wild to wear a condom. This then leads to the idea that having an abortion is an easy choice to make.

This is never the case. Take the time to speak to anyone who has had an abortion and they will tell you that it is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting; that the decision-making process is one of the most difficult to go through.

Strangely, many of the most vehement opponents of abortion are people who will never have to consider it as a physical option: men. For me, this is the equivalent of speaking about space travel, knowing that you will never set foot on Mars. You may just need to check yourself as a resounding voice on this! That is not to say that men should not be included to some extent in the conversation. However, when one witnesses a protest/Twitter rant/room full of dudes speaking on whether a woman should be made to create life, or not knowing that all your side did was bust a nut, then we have a problem.

The lack of uterus means you lose a vote.

There are a whole host of monetary, societal, health-based, mental and emotional components to having an abortion (or having a child) that are quickly swept aside in favour of condemning women. Studies have shown that the denial of abortion services have an effect on a woman’s mental health, not counting the effect on her body, her financial stability and her future in general.

Having a child is no easy thing, especially for women. Not only are they the ones who carry the baby for nine months but more and more they bear the brunt of carrying the child for 29 years as many women on the continent end up as single parents.

In the developing world, nearly 7 million women are treated each year for complications arising from trying unsafely to end a pregnancy.

Abortion in Africa

According to reports, in the developing world, nearly 7 million women are treated each year for complications from trying to end a pregnancy unsafely ‘with herbs or sticks or turpentine or bleach, or punches to the stomach, or in unsterile procedures carried out by incompetent practitioners’.

Kenya and Uganda have some of the highest death rates from unsafe abortions in the world, meaning the inability to access knowledge about safe abortions will continue to have a dire effect. According to a report by the Nairobi-based journalist Murithi Mutiga, ‘the policy is set to have a devastating effect on the most vulnerable group: teenage girls.’ According to a report by the World Health Organisation, about 16 million girls aged 15 to 19, and 1 million girls under the age of 15, give birth every year. Furthermore, complications during pregnancy and childbirth are the second highest cause of death for 15-to 19 year-old girls globally.

Stigma attached to contraception too

It is not only abortion that carries a stigma but contraceptive services in general. Women in African countries who approach pharmacies, for example, about contraceptive options are often met with unnecessary advice and interventions by those providing the service, who seem to prescribe to the notion that the ultimate goal should be to reproduce. These prejudices completely disregard any considerations of career advancement, unsafe/life-threatening pregnancies, sexual violence or even school dropout rates of young girls who fall pregnant.

However, studies, such as that done by the Guttmacher Institute, have shown that family planning is good not only for women but for society as a whole. ‘Better birth spacing also makes for healthier mothers, babies and families, and pays far-reaching dividends at the family, society and country levels,’ the Guttmacher Institute reported.

If there is one thing to be learnt from the Global Gag Rule back and the abortion conversation it is that abortion is not going anywhere; that the real debate is whether it is safe or not. The current financial, social and political makeup of the world does not afford women the pleasure of simply churning out children. There are a whole host of reasons women cannot do this, and until these are addressed we have to think about the real options. Having an abortion is often a harrowing decision. It should not be a dangerous one too.

This was first published on This Is Africa

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