Terminating a pregnancy in South Africa has been legal for about 24 years — a reproductive right almost as old as our democracy. Yet, this is often rendered a shame. When not spoken about in hushed tones behind closed doors, the word “abortion” is bellowed at pro-life marches in a string of sentences consisting of judgemental adjectives.
If you have ever walked along or driven through any major city’s central business district or a small town’s main road, one of the first vivid images that may come to mind is that of blue and white A4-sized flyers generously littered across the walls and pavements. These posters display anonymous numbers of faceless practitioners who claim that they can remove a foetus out of your womb in a “fast, pain-free” procedure. You have to think that the less-than-sanitary conditions where we often stumble upon these “unofficial business cards” are symbolic of the back-door facility conditions. For many women, unfortunately, these hidden abortion clinics are the only option. And, given the abundance of posters on almost every street corner, you could even argue that they strategically position themselves as accessible in the eyes of the desperate.
KNOCKING ON THE BACK DOOR
When the founder of Abortion Support South Africa, Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile, shared her abortion story on Facebook a few years ago, it went viral.
In what could be said to have been a digital journal entry, Phalaetsile wrote: “I remember looking at the white ceiling while lying down on the hospital-like bed. My legs were wide open. The two women working on me were talking about their boyfriends. The unbearable pain prompted me to scream, but my cries fell on deaf ears. Instead, my yells were met with emotionless expressions. Cold faces. The process was so painful that whenever I think about that day, I still feel the pain. Only, I was not in an actual hospital. I was in a dirty flat where I was having an abortion at an illegal provider. Next to my bed was a bucket filled with the remains of the foetus of the person who had lain here before me.” Her reason, she told health journalism site Bhekisisa, was that she “wanted the world to know the pain and consequences of an illegal abortion”.
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