Stigma at­tached to abor­tion in Zim

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Feature/opinion - Gen­der 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-tone­go­ti­ate 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.

First, 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 life-long 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 given by young women.

Whether she’s a high school or col­lege stu­dent, or a sin­gle woman earn­ing just enough to live is an­other ma­jor rea­son in­de­pen­dently, many ex­pec­tant mothers lack the re­sources to cover the stag­ger­ingly high costs as­so­ci­ated with preg­nancy, birth, and child-rear­ing, 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 gy­nae­col­o­gist 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 child-rear­ing”.

“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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