In Botswana it is easier to have a back street abortion than to be treated for flu at Princes Marina Hospital.
For P800 and a click of the mouse, Batswana women who wish to terminate unwanted pregnancies can have their wishes fulfilled in a few hours while flue patients are still queing on the line to see a doctor ÔÇô Sunday Standard investigations have revealed.
The right of women to terminate pregnancy in Botswana has been a subject of political, medical, social and legal debate and 18 years later it remains a criminal offence to have one unless it is in the manner which is stipulated in the penal code.
As per the Penal code Amendment Act 1991: It is against the law to carry out an abortion In Botswana. Any person who carries out an abortion can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years. However, there are certain conditions whereby the law allows doctors to carry out an abortion within 16 weeks of pregnancy and these are;
Pregnancy as a result of rape, defilement or incest.
Pregnancy puts the life of a mother at risk or may cause harm to her physical or mental health
The unborn child would suffer or later develop physical or mental abnormality.
The law has forced abortion underground spawning a huge black market where unscrupulous sharks make a roaring business. Social media has made it easy to purchase what is commonly known as ‘Abortion Pills.’ A quick scroll down one’s timeline, a few phone calls and a couple of hours later anyone who is on Facebook, has ‘Abortion Pills’ on the palm of their hands for a measly P800.
The trade has attracted all manner of shady characters who masquerade as ‘safe’ abortion clinics and doctors. The search began on a demure looking Facebook account belonging to a certain Mama Khumalo who surprisingly was a man. The first enquiry made by Mama Khumalo was how far along was the pregnancy which seemingly determines the amount of money one would have to part with.
Mama Khumalo proposed to meet in Tlokweng in front of a fast food outlet inside his nicely pimped corolla which had an awful stench that was assumedly marijuana smoke, it was like walking into the pits of danger. The consultation for this five week old pregnancy lasted exactly five minutes during which Mama Khumalo handed over a brown package, instructions on how to terminate the pregnancy and took his cash.
“Look into the envelope. When you get home place the two sealed ones under your tongue and suck them. After two hours you will experience period like cramps followed by some bleeding. Once the bleeding stops after a few days, take the rest of them one per day in the evening with warm water for four consecutive days, they will clean your uterus. Then you will be home free,” said Mama Khumalo. He then drove off P800 richer.
The big question is; what happens to women once they get home and have abortions by themselves?
And then there is Odirile* a young twenty something year old man fresh out of University who openly told the publication about his lucrative career selling ‘Abortion Pills’ all through varsity. “I had a connection with someone at one of the local government medical facilities who sold me pills which I sold to the students for a profit.” Odirile claims to have never had any fatalities from his ‘patients.’ That however does not guarantee the safety of the girls that had used them.
Pharmacist at Prime Health Pharmacy Sandra Panesu explained in an interview that the pills that had been purchased were called Cytotec which is a Misoprostol. She further explained that when Misoprostol first hit the market it was not really meant for abortions. “It was meant to relief patients suffering from bleeding ulcers due to taking non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs. It was used because of its special ability to aid the stomach in producing more mucus to quote the ulcers. Also to reduce stomach acid production,” she said. They are registered currently in South Africa and The United States of America for use in medical abortions. “These should be administered strictly under the supervision of a medical doctor or a senior matron,” said Panesu. There are different ways of administering the drug owing to its unique properties. In the process Panesu said doctors discovered that as a side effect the pills cause lower abdominal cramps. “They stimulate other receptors in the uterus making it contract and relax repeatedly, expelling tissue as this happens. The pills also make the cervix soft,” she added. Panesu further stated that such alternative properties then meant Misoprostol could also be used in medical abortions.
She cautioned that although the pills were then registered to be used for abortions, it was never a generic solution for all pregnancies. Their administration varies from one expectant mother to another depending on how far along they are with their pregnancy. “In a clinical environment the doctor either asks the patient to place the pills under her tongue, on her cheek, or up her vagina,” she said. Panesu could not over emphasize that the procedure needed to take place under the strict supervision of a medical doctor or health professional who would be the one figuring it all out including dosage. “The danger of taking the Mama Khumalo route is that there is a high likelihood of an incomplete abortion from the same pills. If they are incorrectly taken, for instance you could be twelve weeks along and told to place them under your tongue. They simply will not work,” she said. Adding that the woman could still cramp and bleed but the uterus may still not let go of the unborn baby.
Panesu says the dangers of these backyard abortions are endless. “An incomplete abortion could lead to a ruptured uterus which could then lead to uncontrollable bleeding and that in most cases is fatal within a few hours. The bleeding could even be internal in some cases. In cases where the woman survives the bleeding but the termination has not occurred, we can expect very serious birth defects at full term,” said Panesu. As to whether or not there are any culprits among local doctors who smuggle the drugs to the street doctors along with detailed instructions of use, Panesu said it was highly unlikely. “They probably smuggle them from across the border as locally there is no one who is licensed to distribute them. I have a strong feeling the syndicates extend to neighboring countries where the laws on abortion are a lot more relaxed,” she said.
Regarding the other golden marble looking tablets which were to be ingested to cleanse the womb, Panesu dismissed them as vitamins and there was no way, considering their structure and packaging (or lack of it thereof) they could have been antibiotics.
Broadhurst Police Senior Superintendent Bonnie Bareki said he was very worried about the growing number of fetuses they pick up from dustbins around Gaborone. “What worries me the most is that it is virtually impossible to link women to these heinous crimes. Once she dumps the fetus and leaves there is very little we can do to trace her. It is a sign that every week more and more women resort to backyard abortions,” he said. Happy that his desk was contacted for this topic, Bareki said journalists can indeed come in handy with their investigative skills in helping them bring the evil down. “You have just made us aware of the ugly trade on Facebook and we promise you we will not rest until we catch the culprits one by one,” he said.