The slow and painful death of Lorraine, a first year University of Zimbabwe student, who was four months pregnant when she tried to abort a pregnancy using a coat hanger; pains a grim picture on backyard terminations in a conservative country, where abortion remains illegal.
Young girls have a higher risk of getting unwanted pregnancies, hence they have a higher rate of resorting to unsafe abortions because they cannot go to state hospitals, where they can do safe abortions. However, they do not have enough reasons to legally justify why they want to abort and enough money to pay for the procedure.
Some of the unorthodox abortion methods that the young girls resort to include using hooked wires or wire hangers to break the uterus lining, drinking washing powder, taking an overdose of pills and shoving fresh chilies up their private parts.
These methods pose threats to their health, as some of them may cause barrenness in future and some lead to death.
According to an October 2018 study published in the journal PLOS ONE, about 66 800 abortions were performed in Zimbabwe in 2016, which translate to a national rate of 17.8 (UI: 14.4-22.9) abortions per 1000 women 15-49. Overall, 40% of pregnancies were unintended in 2016, and one quarter of all unintended pregnancies ended in abortion.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest maternal mortality ratios in the world, estimated at 651 per 100 000 live births. Unsafe abortions are likely a contributing cause of maternal mortality.
Abortion in Zimbabwe is illegal as provided for under the Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1977 chapter 15:10, which states that the termination of pregnancy is permitted only in cases of rape, when the mother’s life is at risk or when the child may be born with serious mental or physical disabilities. Breaking the act attracts imprisonment of up to five years.
In practice, however, access to legal abortions on these grounds is difficult and rare. Legal and administrative barriers coupled with stigma among both women and providers and fears of social repercussions serve to limit access to legal abortion in Zimbabwe. Rather than reduce the abortion incidence, Zimbabwe’s tight abortion laws are not curbing demand, they are driving them underground which results in women pursuing clandestine and potentially unsafe abortions.
Zimbabwe has done well in reducing the maternal mortality rate through advocating for the use of contraceptives, however, since the youths seems not interested in using the contraceptives, Zimbabwe’s Pregnancy Act should be revised as it has forced many women to resort on risky backyard abortions and the prices being charged at hospitals for abortions should be revised too to cater for all social classes.
By Rutendo Bamu