BY RUTH KEDIKILWE
According to the Reproductive Maternal Newborn Children and Adolescents Health Programs (RMCAH) 2015, for every 100 000 babies delivered there are 182.6 deaths. With today’s advanced technology and cutting edge facilities the maternal mortality rate recorded should be way lower, but with unlawful (backyard) abortions still taking place and contributing towards 15% of these deaths women will continue to die.
For as long as people are having sex, they will have unplanned and unwanted pregnancies and due to the legal parameters surrounding the issue of termination of pregnancies women will voluntarily or through cohesion fall victim to street pharmacists selling products that need to be administered by health professionals at a fully equipped health facility.
Botswana law specifies that only a pregnancy that is deemed harmful to the mother, a result of rape, defilement or incest can be terminated. Otherwise no woman can be granted an abortion in Botswana.
Something however is stirring. The government of Botswana seems to be inclined to start discussinglegalizing abortion.
Botswana Family Welfare Organization, (BOFWA) Projects Manager Senzeni Makhwaje told The Sunday Standard Lifestyle that in her line of work she has come to realize that the in most instances where people have been violated and are entitled to a legal abortion they are unaware or choose not to go through the tedious and cumbersome procedure. Makhwaje further described this gap as either client or provider related, the client not reporting or the provider not bringing forth the services within the required 16 week period.
After being violated, the victim is faced with making a decision on whether or not to report given the stigma surrounding rape and its victims. Rape apologists are always quick to question what the victim was wearing, where they were raped and their state of sobriety completely disregarding the rapist and their actions. According to Makhwaje the facilities put in place for people to report are usually not conducive and societal pressure discourages victims from reporting.
From the service provider’s perspective Makhwaje blames the mishaps on the time taken between gathering evidence, running the medical tests and the legal process to rule out the pregnancy eligible for an abortion. “The clinical test results turnaround time are usually too long and can also be tampered with,” says Makhwaje.
Above all the loopholes in the termination of pregnancy most Batswana consider abortion as holistically against the law and are oblivious to the legal context and either opt to go to South Africa where termination processes are accessible or go through the unsafe route. A nurse at the Princess Marina Hospital from the gynecology unit who spoke anonymously explained that cases of backyard abortions are a dime a dozen.
According to her they receive patients from the Emergency Room claiming miscarriages, abdominal cramps and other complications but once their blood work is done all signs indicate the results of failed attempts to carry out an unsafe abortion. “We often hand them over to the police with the hope that the perpetrators are apprehended but they hardly are,” says the nurse.
Though affording people the right to choose whether or not to have a child Makhwaje says they at BOFWA prefer to take the prevention oriented route rather than using abortion as a means of correction. Makhwaje says, “Botswana is working tediously around the clock to expand on the existing family planning services to prevent unwanted and unplanned for pregnancy.” She further goes on to cite the 2015 Long Acting Reversible Contraceptive also known as implants as one of the popular modes of contraception among their clients.
BOFWA is also working on the promotion of comprehensive sexuality education aimed at capacitating young adults to make wise decisions regarding sex. They are also engaging partners and community organizations in creating awareness of the availability of abortion services according to the country’s specific legal codes.
It is quite disheartening to find out that “Most of these deaths (maternal mortality) occur in health facilities and have been attributed to poor quality care and weak referral processes,” as per the Maternal and Neonatal Health Synthesis Thematic Report (2015). We do not need any more of these deaths to be occurring due to backyard abortions which is why the possibility of decriminalizing it could possibly be a necessary evil.