TO abort or not to abort. To abort what? To abort, to terminate pregnancy, to shrink away, to cause to end fruitlessly, to stop, abandon and destroy. Miscarriage of birth especially deliberately induced, causing of this especially illegally – that kind of “abort’’.Abortion remains a litigious issue the world over, in Zimbabwe and specifically among young women. It has been the cause of dilemma that has often resulted in either suicide, death from the process of abortion itself, damage to the female reproductive organs or for the braver female – scorn from society, family and friends. Scorn resulting from getting pregnant out of wedlock.
Some may ask who cares whether or not one gets pregnant out of wedlock. Society does. Agree to disagree but the society we live in plays a pivotal role in the decisions we make. The influence and pressure emanating from society shapes our daily lives, not because we have to but because the weaker human being seeks acceptance and validation and will therefore conform to what is prescribed for them.
Due to social constructions, a woman should be courted, paid lobola for, have a wedding and then have a baby but when the process begins with getting pregnant, prejudice surrounds the pregnancy. That is why many young women find themselves contemplating abortion – an act which is illegal in Zimbabwe, not to mention extremely dangerous if not done by a medical practitioner.
Abortion is dangerous because one can bleed to death, get an infection or damage the womb and risk being unable to conceive again.
However, pregnancy termination can be induced by the recommendation of a doctor under specific conditions. Sometimes miscarriages can be medically induced if the pregnancy is endangering the life of the mother.
This can also be done on a person who is under-age who could have been raped or on someone who is mentally challenged. In such cases, it is done after getting a police report and approval by a magistrate. This has to be done at a Government hospital where senior hospital officials will append their signatures.
The Ministry of Health and Child Welfare should also be informed prior to the termination procedure. Prior to the enactment of the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1977, abortion legislation in Zimbabwe was governed by Roman-Dutch common law, which permitted an abortion to be performed only to save the life of the pregnant woman.
The Termination of Pregnancy Act (No 29 of 1977) extended the grounds under which a legal abortion could be obtained in Zimbabwe to a situation where there is a serious risk that the child to be born would suffer from a physical or mental defect of such a nature as to be severely handicapped, or where there is a reasonable possibility that the foetus is conceived as a result of unlawful intercourse which is defined by the Act as rape, incest or intercourse with a mentally challenged woman.
Some medical practitioners have repeatedly warned that illegal abortion is dangerous and a patient can develop complications which might lead to a perennial infection or she could bleed to death but that has not stopped women from aborting. Of course there may be other reasons for abortion such as financial constraints, failure by the man responsible to take responsibility and pregnancy resulting from rape among others.
However, failure to be accepted by society remains the highest-flying reason. From the moment a girl child is born, her marriage is already in the horizon and when that professed future is disrupted tensions may run high. It should be noted however that these young women make choices, choices that have consequences, consequences that cannot be hidden, erased or wished away, consequences that will be around for the next couple of decades.
Imagine what kind of a society it would be if young girls could just show up at home pregnant and be welcomed with open arms. Life would be so much easier but because for centuries now certain “rules” have been laid down as “law”, young girls have to deal with unwanted pregnancies and the penalties that come with them. Abortion for others becomes the only way out.
Some have advocated for the legalisation of abortion in Zimbabwe or its permissiveness under special circumstances but others still find it unforgivable. From a religious point of view, abortion is murder. The moment an embryo (human offspring in the first eight weeks from conception) is formed, life has begun and taking that life away is deemed equal to murder, murder of the future inventor of the next great thing.
Some men have often argued that the only reason they had stayed with the women in their lives was because she fell pregnant and they had to “man-up” and take responsibility, even though they did not anticipate to spend the rest of their lives with this particular woman.
But this has led to the breakdown of many marriages because their union was an emergency. An emergency because society demands a man to marry a woman once he has impregnated her, whether he is in love with her or not. It is just the right thing to do. Some women have turned to abortion as the solution to not ending up with the man they do not love.
“Love” which is a discussion for another day! Of concern though is the spread of HIV and Aids and the transmission of sexually transmitted infections emanating from unprotected sexual intercourse – although Zimbabwe as a country has taken significant strides in educating members of the public of the risks of unprotected sexual activity.
Turning to abortion as a personal choice, some young women have determined to keep it a private matter that no one else should know about. They fear castigation and being lectured on what a terrible and gruesome act abortion is. They quietly look for $200 and get the deed done or simply go to a backyard somewhere, or do it in the comfort of their homes by drinking certain concoctions or inserting particular objects to terminate the pregnancy.
They risk facing the wrath of the law, damaging their reproductive organs or death. They go through the emotional roller coaster themselves because they fear persecution.
Maybe what Zimbabwe needs is not necessarily a legal framework to allow abortion but as a society it needs to be more accepting of pregnancies and babies born out of wedlock. There needs to be a radical shift in the way society views unplanned pregnancies.
Better still, young women should firmly insist on using contraceptives to prevent any unplanned pregnancies that later become a burden to them or their families. It is important now more than ever for schools and parents to introduce the “sex subject” and desist from sweeping it under the carpet.
Sex education is what parents should be talking about with their children. It should not be taboo. Furthermore, the promotion of an environment in which every pregnancy is wanted, every birth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled should be upheld.
There are some organisations which are being rumoured to have started abortion programmes in which a medical practitioner is enlisted to surgically abort with the consent of the patient.
Although it may seem like a noble idea in terms of curbing social problems associated with unwanted pregnancies or minimising the risks that come with abortion, abortion remains a highly sensitive issue for a variety of parties. Sensitive because it questions moral uprightness, religion and may be the cause of cultural and moral decay if legalised.
But as long as young women do not take charge of their sexual wellbeing, the dilemma will remain – to abort or not to abort.