Abortions in South Africa and midwives

I am a midwife. Midwives bring life into this world. They are doing great work and I am honoured to know many wonderful compassionate and caring midwives. Midwives provide care across the spectrum of a woman’s reproductive life–from well-woman care, to pap smears and yearly exams, to prenatal care, and the birthing process.

Abortions are a very sensitive issue in South Africa. It is angers people. For many years abortions were illegal and were only done in certain cases. With the change in Government abortions were legalized, as in terms of the new constitution they were deemed a right. Abortion was made legal in South Africa with the implementation of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996. The Choice of Termination Act stipulated that registered midwives can perform abortions for women and immediately a program was initiated to train midwives around the country to provide abortion services. How disgusting! Prior to the Abortion law, abortion was understood to be a common crime. The law was after the person who performed the abortion not the pregnant woman.

Many religious groupings were against the legalization of abortion and many protest marches took place to the countries parliament. The government however resisted, and the law legalizing abortion was duly promulgated and passed. To add insult to injury midwives were forced against their will and their religious convictions to partake in abortions. South Africa is the only country in the world where midwives are expected to perform abortions. They trained these saviours of life to perform abortions; what a contradiction! Abortion is a gruesome business. From 6 weeks gestation after conception the foetus is clearly human. At 8 weeks, the foetus is 3 cm long and has limbs and facial features.

South Africa hospitals perform two types of abortions, surgical and medical abortions. In surgical abortions the vacuum extraction or dilatation and curettage (D & C) technique is used. The abortionist use sometimes a handheld specially designed syringed or hollow tube connected to an electrical pump to apply suction inside the cervix, removing the unborn foetus in the process, all in pieces. So it is understandable why nurses and doctors are revolting. Doctors and nurses see the pieces of the dismembered foetus as they come out. Worse of all, the nurses must scrap all the pieces together of the dismembered foetus to prevent infection and to make sure nothing is left behind. As a midwife for 25 yrs I am appalled that any health professional would want to be part of this “campaign of abortion.”

In medical abortions the patient is given pills orally or vaginally to induce labour. Sometimes when the foetus is over 20 weeks, the baby is still alive and lives for a few hours. Nurses have to stand and watch a baby die and do nothing while the pregnant woman goes back to her normal life of promiscuity. No wonder so many of us want nothing to do with abortions. The ANC government did not take into account the feeling of the medical profession when they debated on this law.

Resultant from this particular law many midwives left the country; nurses found this law very contrary to their training and belief; anathema. Were the fact of the matter that a woman had a miscarriage or self induced abortion this would have been a different matter; to force nurses to abort women is enough to blow even the broadest of minds. There of course were numerous arguments in defense of the abortion act; the foremost being that it would help reduces maternal deaths. As it turned out it was the exact opposite, but rather an increase in the maternal death rate, coupled with severe trauma and depression. In a report published in the Pretoria News in 2004 it was estimated that 500 women died each year from legal abortions in South Africa compare with just 32 backstreet abortions. The Pretoria News surveyed 18 hospitals and each one admitted that pregnant women had died from legal abortions.

The law in question should definitely be revised since it is subject to abuse, being used as a contraceptive when it is in fact the ending of an innocent life. I don’t think we will have a change in the abortion law unless we have a change in government. The constitutional court has eight members and they are all pro-choice, all appointed by the present government.

In the 60s, the World Bank, the UN and a host of independent American philanthropic foundations, such as the Ford and Rockefeller foundations, began to focus on what they saw as the problem of burgeoning poorer countries numbers.  These groups believed that overpopulation was the primary cause of environmental degradation, economic underdevelopment and political instability. Massive populations in the poor countries were seen as presenting a threat to Western capitalism and access to resources according to Professor Betsy Hartmann.  So we know that in 1966, US President Lyndon Johnson warned that the US might be overwhelmed by desperate masses, and he made US foreign aid dependent on countries adopting family planning programmes.

By the time of a major UN conference on population and development in Cairo in 1994, women’s groups were ready to strike a blow for women’s rights, and they won. South Africa was there, very new government and in desperate need of cash, so they did what they have to do for cash…forcing abortions onto the people.



Abortions in South Africa and midwives — 2 Comments

  1. The tone of this article is quite biased and judgemental. I believe it is this kind of hostile attitude that forces already vulnerable women into the hands of backstreet abortionists. Whatever reasons a woman has for seeking to terminate a pregnancy, rest assured she has not reached it lightly, and is in need of support and compassion, not disgust.

    If a midwife does not feel comfortable performing an abortion, they are within their rights to refuse. http://www.sanc.co.za/policyrights.htm

    • A midwife is a care-giver who attends women throughout pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period. It is an ancient and vital profession, records of midwives date back to ancient civilizations, where they were honoured and respected professionals tasked with safely bringing new life into the world. It is not the work of midwives to do the dirty work of politicians and reproductive control of poorer countries.

      I respect the needs of midwives who do not wish to participate in abortion as they probably took their jobs with the intention of bringing babies into the world. I can see both sides of the “argument. As a midwife, I would never refuse to help a person who needed nursing care. I would also not agree to participate in an abortion. But the two are not mutually exclusive. One can support women who have undergone abortions without having to get involved in the procedures themselves. I supported my friend who underwent an abortion, despite my own views on the subject. The fact is that she was going to undergo an abortion anyway, and I felt that as a friend my first duty was to support her and put my own beliefs on the back burner.

      Strange that abortion services have been linked to maternity services. It would be more appropriate to link abortion to pathology services. I wonder what the millions of unborn, aborted children would say about their rights, if they had a voice. Let’s us not forget that an abortion is a surgical procedure that if not done correctly or knowing what to do in case of a major complication, can lead to infection, complications leading to a hysterectomy or even death. I do not believe that midwives should perform this service, under ANY circumstance. That role needs to be reserved for a physician…who is able to handle a complication, should it arise. Midwives do well-woman care and prescribe birth control. They should not perform abortions. What we should do is providing counseling and family planning to women. Ask most women why they had an abortion in South Africa, and they will say lack of access to contraceptives will be the most commonly cited. The World Bank has found that 60 percent of South African women use contraceptives, but access varies greatly by community. Also, less than half of sexually active teenagers report using condoms; nearly 20 percent report forgoing contraception entirely. In the Eastern Cape, we heard stories of teens having sex for money, shoes or cellphone credit. There’s a broad social denial about teens’ sexual activity, but there’s also a stigma. “In the present culture, you know, contraception is a taboo.

      A total of 77,771 legal abortions were performed in South Africa in 2011, which indicated a 31% increase since 2010. In 2010, the health department said, 59,447 abortions were carried out. The latest statistics translate to nearly 25,000 more than the annual average for legal abortions over the past ten years. I am very worried. Not only about the high statistics, but also about the fact that so many people are having unprotected sex… it’s clear that people are not using contraceptives like condoms, so they are exposing themselves to serious illnesses like Aids.

      The International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994, focused on controlling population growth in developing countries and SA was a good target, new government and in need of funding. This law was forced onto the people of South Africa. The Marie Stopes Clinics do abortions and nine clinics are situated in the areas surrounding Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. We know now that the Cairo conference was driven largely by western feminist agendas. It is time that South Africa should review this law.

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