The other day, I read with interest an article that revealed how the rising cases of illegal abortions are a major cause for concern for the Minister of Health, Dr John Seakgosing.
The Minister is quoted by one of the local newspapers as saying that ”last year alone, 6 397 cases were recorded at government hospitals countrywide”, adding that the number could be much higher as it excludes clinics.
The law in Botswana says that it’s illegal to carry out an induced abortion, unless it’s for medical reasons. A person can be sentenced to a minimum of 7 years if found guilty of such an offence.
Abortion, a term often mistaken for having one definition by society, is a topic that keeps coming from time to time and continues to raise debates even today.
In our society, the word ‘abortion’ is used to describe only an intentional termination of a pregnancy but in the medical world, abortion is used to refer to both intentional and unintentional abortion.
Or, to paraphrase local Dr Tuelo Ntwaagae, it could mean either one of two terms, a spontaneous abortion, which is the one that is normally called a miscarriage. He said the second type of abortion is the one that causes debates worldwide: the induced abortion, which could either be what we refer to as backstreet abortion or it could be medically induced.
It is possible that the country lost a significant number of young women due to the high risks involved in back-door abortions.
The minister himself said that these reported cases had evidence that suggests that herbal concoctions, foreign objects like pens and feathers are often used to terminate pregnancies.
These are only cases that are known to the departments of health, what about cases where the woman feared coming to the hospital for fear of being arrested and also afraid to be stigmatized by her family and society?
In most cases, it is difficult to diagonise a cause of death but should a woman die as a result of an illegal abortion how then would we know the cause of death, especially if we consider that not every death that occurs results in a post mortem.
Dr Ntwaagae says that post mortems are only performed when the family requests it or when the police are involved and have reason to believe the death to be suspicious.
The secrecy that comes with performing an abortion complicates matters more as the woman tries to protect herself.
It is these same women who understand the rage that society would turn their way if they were to be found out find out.
They also understand that they might go to prison for the act they committed.
In our culture we have what we call ”go itoba”, where people would not tell others what’s wrong with them to a point whereby they will take it to their early grave. That is when we get the family explaining to people at funerals that the person had been sick for a short while before they passed on and the traditional doctors could not tell what was wrong with them.
It might be farfetched but any Batswana who have lived in a rural area will be quick to see how it could be possible.
Ntwaagae said that in his opinion it would be hard to consider the theory because health care access in Botswana is very adequate and most people end up approaching the hospital when their situations go from bad to worse in failed abortion attempts. He said that even though it’s considered illegal, people should not be afraid to approach the hospital when they are in need of treatment, especially after their attempts have placed their health at risk.
“It’s difficult for us to accuse someone of committing abortion even if the signs are there because we don’t know if it happened due to natural causes or if it was induced through backdoor abortions; it’s difficult to prove,” he said.
Our law considers abortion illegal, maybe because the government wants to reach its 2 million population aim but people still do it anyway. We all know of cases where people have even gone as far as to travel to South Africa to get it done.
Now we have a serious problem where we stand to lose both the mother and the foetus.