Stigma attached to abortion in Zim

pregnant-belly

Tsungai Chekerwa-Machokoto

ABORTION is quite a touchy topic for a lot of people. Our country is so conservative and it is considered taboo to talk about abortion.  There is virtually nothing to discuss when it comes to abortion. It is evil and that’s final. Religion has a strong stance about abortion – it is the murder of a life because life begins at conception.

Once again the lawyer in me and the gender activist in me conflict. I would love to hear what your views are on this topic. Our national laws have no space for voluntary abortion because it is something that is unnecessary, something that can be avoided by simply being responsible.  There are however legal provisions for women that have catastrophic situations like rape, to be able to have a medical abortion.

For some, abortion is an inconceivable act, but for others abortion seems to be the only way out of an unplanned pregnancy and an impossible-to-negotiate future.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, a handful of studies over the years have indicated consistently similar answers from women who identify why they have chosen to have an abortion. The top three reasons these women cite for not being able to continue their pregnancies and give birth are as follows.

Firstly it is the negative impact on the mother”s life.  Taken at face value, this reason may sound selfish. But a pregnancy that occurs in the wrong place at the wrong time can have a lifelong impact on a woman”s ability to raise a family and earn a living.

Less than half of teens who become mothers before the age of 18 finish their high school. College and university students who become pregnant and give birth are also much less likely to complete their education than their peers.

Employed single women who become pregnant face an interruption of their jobs and careers. This impacts their earning ability and may make them unable to raise the child on their own. For women who already have other children at home or are caring for aging relatives, the reduction in income resulting from pregnancy/birth may bring them below the poverty datum line and require them to seek financial assistance.  In Zimbabwe this has also contributed to the small house fiasco and it has ruined the stability of a lot of families.

Financial instability is another major reason given by young women.  Whether she”s a high school or college student, or a single woman earning just enough to live independently, many expectant mothers lack the resources to cover the staggeringly high costs associated with pregnancy, birth, and childrearing, especially if they do not have health cover which is usually the case.

Saving for a baby is one thing, but an unplanned pregnancy places an enormous financial burden on a woman who cannot afford to care for an infant, let alone pay for the necessary gynecologist or antenatal visits that will ensure healthy foetal development.  Lack of adequate medical care during pregnancy places the new born at a higher risk for complications during birth and in early infancy.

A proper birth in a hospital ranges from $900 to $3,500 depending on the hospital and doctors.  And for government clinics, $50.   This figure excludes the amount for caesarean sections or emergencies.  These figures, coupled with the cost of raising a child from infancy through age 17 makes giving birth a terrifying proposition for someone who is still in school, or lacks a steady income, or simply does not have the financial resources to continue a pregnancy with adequate medical care and give birth to a healthy baby.

Relationship problems /unwillingness to be a single mother are also a leading reason.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but it is reality.  The majority of women with unplanned pregnancies do not live with their partners or have committed relationships. These women realise that in all likelihood they will be raising their child as a single mother. Many are unwilling to take this big step due to the reasons described above: interruption of education or career, insufficient financial resources, or inability to care for an infant due to caregiving needs of other children or family members.

Even in situations involving women cohabitating with their partners, the outlook for unmarried women as single mothers in discouraging; for women in their 20s living with their partners at the time of birth, one-third ended their relationships within two years.  Some women date married men and when the man moves on with his life, they find themselves stuck with an unwanted pregnancy.

There are also other reasons why women abort.  The following statements reflect concerns that play a role in influencing women to terminate their pregnancies: “I don”t want more children or I”m done with childrearing”.

“I”m not ready to become a mother or not ready for another child”

“I don”t want others to know about my pregnancy or that I”m having sex”

“My husband/partner wants me to have an abortion”

“There are problems with the health of foetus”

“There are problems with my own health”

“My parents want me to have an abortion”

Combined with those reasons previously cited, these secondary concerns often convince women that abortion – though a difficult and painful choice – is the best decision for them at this time in their lives.

My argument as a lawyer is that people should have a choice of either to keep or to terminate the pregnancy.  I understand that this thought infuriates a lot of people but the truth is that abortion is one of the five main causes of the perinatal and maternal mortality rates which remain among the highest in the world.

Now it is up to us as a country to continue to be in denial that people have unwanted pregnancies and continue to pretend that it does not happen.

Or we accept that it is happening, for whatever reason, and provide legal protection and procedures on how to do it in a lawful manner.  It is really up to us.

I would like to conclude by asking young women to take care of their sexuality and their reproductive health to avoid being in such predicaments that leave them with abortion as the only option.  We need to be realistic as a country and look at the causes of maternal mortality and realise that abortion is one of the top five reasons why our women die prematurely.

I know the standpoint of the local laws on it but I hope for reconsideration because abortion is not only real, but it is taking people’s lives and that should be a cause for concern.  If we can do something about it, we should do it.

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