African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) MP Cheryllyn Dudley’s private members Bill on abortion hit another stumbling block as the Department of Health urged MPs to reject it, reports Business Day.
The Bill’s proposals, if implemented, would be prohibitively expensive and make it harder for women to safely terminate unwanted pregnancies, said Yogan Pillay, the Health Department’s deputy director-general for HIV/AIDS, TB and maternal, child and women’s health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had advised the Health Department that the conditions the Bill attached to obtaining abortions were not evidence based and were at odds with WHO guidelines on abortion, said Pillay. "They are likely to further hamper access to safe abortion within the public sector and contribute to a rise in unsafe abortions, which carry a higher risk of morbidity," he said, quoting correspondence from the WHO. The proposals also increased the likelihood that women would die from unsafe abortions, he told Parliament’s portfolio committee on health.
The report says the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament in December. It proposes showing a woman ultrasound images of her foetus before all abortions, mandatory counselling before and after abortions, and introduces a requirement that for abortions between 13 and 20 weeks, a social worker and a doctor must agree that the pregnancy would significantly affect the socio-economic circumstances of the women.
Pillay said the department estimated that implementing the Bill’s proposals would cost R47bn over five years – a far higher figure than that estimated by Dudley. The department estimated that abortion services would be scaled up to 75% of existing primary healthcare facilities and all hospitals except specialised hospitals, and that 50% of current primary healthcare facilities would need to purchase ultrasound equipment. More technicians, counsellors and social workers would need to be employed, Pillay said.
The report says Dudley ran into opposition from members of the committee when she first presented her Bill in March, as MPs took issue with both the substance and emotional tone of her presentation.
At the time, she said that it would cost about R5m to provide ultrasound machines to all facilities offering abortions and that mandatory counselling would enable women to make informed choices about abortion and provide an opportunity to educate them about safe sex. She said enabling women to terminate pregnancies because they faced challenging financial circumstances discriminated against babies conceived by poor parents, and social workers were better placed than doctors to advise women on how to solve these problems.
The ANC’s Fish Mahlalela asked the department to seek legal advice on the constitutionality of the bill’s provisions. The report says he previously told the committee that he believed Dudley’s proposals were unconstitutional as they would limit a woman’s rights to make decisions about her own body and her reproductive health.
The department agreed to report back to the committee, which will then consider its position on the Bill.Business Day report