A Cape Argus report says according to the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition (SRJC), less than 7% of the country’s health facilities provide abortions, creating a barrier to equal access for all – especially those based in rural communities. While abortion has been legal in South Africa since 1997, an alarming number of women are still having unsafe abortions, performed by unskilled practitioners.
The report says the organisation recently launched a petition in partnership with the Western Cape-based Femme Projects Organisation to demand that the three major political parties – the ANC, DA and the EFF – increase the support for those seeking health care services for reproductive and sexual health. The coalition has also asked for an increase in the budget for sexual and reproductive health for the 2020 budget.
SRJC director Marion Stevens said the petition was important because while South Africa has the laws and policies to protect reproductive rights, not enough was being done to action these. “Women are frustrated and angry. We have great laws and policy, but shocking attention to implementation, poor stewardship of resources and budgets. There needs to be greater attention to women’s health,” Stevens is quoted in the report as saying.
In February 1997, South Africa enacted a globally renowned law on abortion, motivated to redress the imbalances of the past where 429 black women died each year from a lack of access to health services. This Act came to be known as the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act of 1996.
“Having an Act in place meant that women and pregnant people would be free to make their own decisions regarding their bodies and their futures, that they have bodily autonomy without being psychologically, physically and emotionally harmed by being lawfully forced into carrying a foetus to term,” Stevens said. “(However) there is a lack of a capable state, health systems and governance. There is poor leadership from the national Department of Health. Women go to illegal providers as they are not able to access public health services early in pregnancy.”
The report says Stevens lamented the challenges that women, transgender people and sex workers face when seeking access to sexual and reproductive health, including lack of access to effective healthcare, government inefficiency and discrimination.
Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said this was not the case, as access to health services was not a barrier faced by women in the province. “Women are able to access women’s health services at our 24-hour and eight-hour facilities across the province,” van der Heever said.Cape Argus report (subscription needed)