Battle continues for women's right to safe (and stigma-free) abortions

It's been 20 years since the passing of the Choice of Termination of Pregnancy Act, but yet not all women in South Africa have access to safe abortions.

The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC) says that many women still struggle to access this health service which is supposed to be their right under that law.

As a consequence, more than half of all termination of pregnancies (TOPs) carried out in this country are illegal (and often unsafe).

WLC lead attorney Jody Fredericks says that while South Africa's laws are very progressive, what is on paper does not translate to health practice and women's lived realities.

Fredericks explains that there is not enough information about TOPs, and many women have complained about maltreatment from healthcare practitioners.

This conflates the challenges to access, because TOPs are time sensitive procedures, advises Fredericks.

There are also those who deny women access to TOPs because of their conscience, thus violating the women's moral and legal choice.

TOPs in the public healthcare are free, but private services are costly and prohibitive for poorer women.

Journalist Joonji Mdyogolo has collected women's abortion stories as a part of larger series of work, and says abortion is highly pathologised subject matter, often linked to young black poor teenage girls.

She says that women of different, ages, races and upbringings have all experienced the stigma of what is a common social practice.

We might have moved progressively in terms of the law, but we haven't changed in terms of how we think about it.

Joonji Mdyogolo, journalist

Young people, married couples, religious leaders - people from all walks of life - want to remain anonymous because of the social stigma.

Mdyogolo advises that South Africans need to rethink the polarising binary discussion of 'pro-choice' vs 'pro-life'.

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