January 12, 2007

One reason to keep abortion legal and accessible

Posted in Feminism, Law, Medicine, Reproduction at 7:05 pm by The Lizard Queen

This morning I came across this BBC News article (via Feministing) about illegal abortions in Ghana. A few excerpts follow.

Both abortion and contraception are frowned upon and children are seen as precious.

Sound familiar?

But Gloria [a 22-year-old woman who lives in a village in eastern Ghana] does not want children yet–she wants to continue her schooling.

This is a situation in which plenty of women in the United States find themselves. Education and having children are not necessarily mutually exclusive here, but it’s certainly a difficult combination, and I suspect it would be significantly more difficult, if not impossible, to combine the two in a developing country. Furthermore, education can have a profound effect on the quality of life for women and their children, so, to me, waiting until one’s schooling is complete to have children makes sense–even if that means turning to abortion, as Gloria did:

So, with the help of a friend she resorted to self-abortion. But it all went badly wrong.

“The first method I used were the leaves of the bush plant mixed with kawa, a local stone,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Crossing Continents.

“We ground them together and inserted it into the uterus.”

But that method did not work and in a small, quavering voice, Gloria said: “Then we inserted the branch of the bush plant and the blood started coming in 15 minutes.”

Makes me think of the stories I’ve heard involving wire coat hangers…

Gloria’s second abortion was only four months ago.

First her friend gave her melted sugar with Guinness. No effect.

Then 10 paracetemol tablets ground up with local gin. Still nothing.

“Finally, we tried a broken bottle ground up with seawater and “Blue”, a washing detergent, which we soaked in a cotton cloth and inserted into my womanhood,” she confessed.

“By doing that the foetus came. I bled and bled and bled for more than five days.”

Gloria is today in constant pain and too afraid to see a doctor.

She has refused to tell even her mother, who is a midwife.

“If I informed my mother, she would tell my father and that would be the end of me,” she explained.

This is what illegal abortion looks like. But wait–there’s more:

In Africa, Ghana’s abortion law is considered relatively liberal.

Technically it is illegal but there are three broad and flexible exceptions which mean women can demand legal terminations.

They are: if she gets pregnant as a result of rape, incest or reduced mental ability; if the pregnancy poses a risk to her physical or mental health, and if the unborn child might suffer an abnormality or disease.

But that is if they know the law at all and that is a major problem.

Women and girls, doctors, quacks, the police, even judges, have all been shown to be ignorant of Ghana’s law, or have wilfully broken it knowing they will not be caught.

Certain politicians in the United States want to make abortion illegal, or at least overturn Roe v. Wade and leave the decision up to state governments (many of which would then make it illegal). They have ample reasons as to why women shouldn’t get abortions. However, the situation in Ghana illustrates what I believe is the central problem: making abortion illegal (or greatly limiting access to it) does not actually prevent abortions; it just makes them more dangerous.

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