Access to safe abortion is a straight-forward issue. It is about the enjoyment of sexual and reproductive health and rights. It is about choices which women make about their bodies. Anyone who claims that abortion is a controversial issue is a victim of indoctrination.
More often, the basis of these distorted perceptions about abortion are the myths peddled by gurus of indoctrination, opposed to abortion’s availability and legality.
The anti-choice activists, for reasons best known to them, are working tirelessly to prevent women from enjoying comprehensive sexual and reproductive health and rights. Using propaganda, they stigmatise abortion procedure, the providers and the women who get abortions. They even poke their nose into politics by trying to sway the stand of progressive liberal politicians on abortions.
Without any iota of shame, the anti-choice activists are notoriously known for orchestrating male chauvinism, discrimination against women and religious dogma of intolerance, create some myths and distortions that have a detrimental effect on women’s health, rights and lives.
Today, we would like to set the record straight on a few facts about abortion.
Myth: Women will have fewer abortions if abortion is prohibited or restricted
Big lie. Pure fabrication. Fictitious imagination. This is a falsehood which some anti-choice activists champion. The assumption that criminalising or restricting the availability of abortion leads women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term is hogwash.
Reality: Criminalising or restricting abortions is a complete waste of time. Women who want to terminate their unwanted pregnancies will find a way to do so, whether abortion is legal or not.
Here in Malawi, the Penal Code restricts abortion but every year over 141,000 Malawian women induce abortion. This is according to research done by the College of Medicine.
Globally, over 46 million abortions occur each year out of which 19 million are illegal. In Indonesia, where abortion is prohibited except to save a woman’s life, it is estimated one to two million abortions are performed annually. In Ireland, where abortion is similarly prohibited, thousands of Irish women travel to England or Wales each year to have a legal procedure.
It is worth noting that where abortion is restricted or prohibited, women faced with an unwanted pregnancy are often forced to resort to witchdoctors, untrained providers or to self-induced abortion, which puts them at great risk of injury or death.
It is not liberal abortion laws that prompt women to have abortions. Rather, it is the reality of living with an unwanted pregnancy. With nearly 40 percent of all pregnancies being unplanned, whether abortions are legal or not, women will continue to terminate their unwanted pregnancies.
While some are burying their head in the sand and Parliament is dilly-dallying in enacting the Termination of Pregnancy Bill, by the end of today over 387 girls and women will terminate their unwanted pregnancies translating to our (Malawi’s) figure of 141,000 abortions per year. A good percentage of them will die while some will be rushed to government hospitals for post abortion treatment and care. That’s the reality.
Myth: Reforming the law to allow abortion in certain conditions will increase the number of abortions among women
Reality: Abortion law reform does not increase the number of abortions.
In countries where the law was changed to allow abortion, there are no indications on the increase in the number of abortions performed. However, there are pieces of evidence based on statistics that prove that after the change in the law to allow abortion, some countries registered a drastic reduction in the number of deaths due to unsafe abortion. An example of that is neighbour South Africa where after the liberalization of abortion in 1996, there was a decrease in the number of deaths due to unsafe abortion.
Myth: Abortion is against religion
Reality: It’s possible to be religious and still support access to abortion. There are diverse opinions about abortion among different religious groups. Many Catholics – including theologians, nuns and priests – disagree with the Catholic Church on many issues around health, contraception and abortion. Catholics for a Free Choice is a group of Catholics that support access to abortion and have members in many countries. It is also important to remember that religions differ on many issues including days of worship, food, dress codes and even on alcohol consumption. In some churches, alcohol consumption is acceptable while other churches brand the same as sin. The same differences even apply to food like pork.
Such differences even emerge on the issue of abortion. Some religious leaders and their followers believe abortion is acceptable while others hold different views.
Each religion has its own stand on abortion and no religion should impose its beliefs on others.