By Nomazulu Thata
The high rate of violence and sexual abuse on girls and young women: the alarmingly high reported cases of rape on girls, country-wide; reports of rape in matrimonial homes are common, cases of femicide due to unsafe abortions have highly risen. Virginity testing done the day before marriage leading to rape by a relative is still happening today: women and girls get pregnant. When a woman realizes she is pregnant, the first question is how she will rid herself of unwanted pregnancy. The law, the society, the church does not allow abortion. The woman will illegally consult herbalists’ providers or facilitators who have scant and basic knowledge of terminating pregnancies. This practice not clinical, costs the lives of women and girls in Zimbabwe because it is a dangerous route, not safe. In Zimbabwe, thousands of women and girls have perished due to unsafe methods of pregnancy termination.
Abortion is a much-contested topic: At best it should never be spoken about in our societies: it should be pushed under the carpet. How do I speak about abortion freely in conservative Zimbabwean societies, risking being labelled a witch at best, satanic but last? A country that has high rate of rape of girl-children: every 90 minutes, a girl or young woman is raped in Zimbabwe. Rape is extremely high because men believe that they can cure their HIV/AIDS infection through sexual intercourse with virgins will cure the virus: resulting in men targeting many girl-children and young women. For this reason and many other, it is my prudent opinion that abortion should be legalised to avoid unwanted children born in thousands currently living in the streets and scavenging food in bins and maize fields.
However, a topic about abortion demands expertise with social scientific, psychological, medical knowledge, I am however none of the above, I am an activist using my gut feelings, my stomach to comment on it. I am catholic, but my position about abortion are far from the established catholic views. Having lived in Germany more than three quarters of my life, let me start by looking at how the German societies view abortion and what have they done, what steps were taken to legalize some aspects of it. Zimbabwe may learn about German laws.
Abortion is not legal in Germany; it is forbidden by law. Only on exceptional cases can a woman be granted permission to terminate her foetus. Again this permission is granted within three months plus three days of pregnancy. The three days is the window given by the law to consult and then after being admitted in any clinic to act on abortion within those three stipulated days. This means that according to the statutory law (paragraph 218) the so-called penal code, permission to abort is in conformity with a list of exceptions. (a) A woman must qualify for a legal abortion; (b) a pregnant woman must have adequately consulted and received all necessary information regarding abortion and the alternative to abort the foetus. (c) The pregnant woman must have a written document from a recognized consulting centre ever to be allowed for abortion in any clinic and hospital. The reason for abortion should border on health (risk of impairment of mother’s health) and criminal reasons, example victims of rape.
In Germany abortions are carried out free of charge in any clinic or hospital. The medical aid provides adequate provision for such offers: the medical aid takes charge of all costs relating to it. Again sex education is abundantly taught and thoroughly dealt with in schools from the age of 11 years upwards. Despite the advanced medical advantages, young women and teenagers will get pregnant all the same, 99% of which are unwanted pregnancies. Is it the stubborn nature that defies biology that conception takes place under any circumstances? However, there is no stigma to those women and teenagers who have had an abortion in Germany except of course in churches.
Globally and in Zimbabwe too, the reasons why teenage pregnancies occur are to some extent the absence of parents and guardians at home, teenage drinking, and wild parties; (Voo-Doo teen-parties in Bulawayo in 2019 shook the nation) sexually abused girls and young women in homes by fathers and guardians, rape, and peer pressure that compels them to have sex, it is cool! Girls mature faster both physically and emotionally making it possible to engage in sexual relationship early. It is not only teenagers who get unwanted pregnancies but also women across all childbearing ages. Unwanted pregnancies are referenced to teenagers because they are a vulnerable social group.
Why is the word abortion such an abomination in our societies in Zimbabwe? We must ask what language do our societies view abortion and what do they say when they talk about abortion? The societal-cultural norms, the church, and the laws of the land judge abortion harshly and they attach negative morals connotations to it? The three institutions: church, the societal cultural beliefs and the law argue against abortion. Their positions are in tandem, are agreeable to outlaw and forbidding abortion altogether: clinical and otherwise.
Our conservative profile position about abortion needs a broad philosophical debate country-wide, an outreach that will clearly tackle this moral double bind. The fact is that it is a social problem and not moral; the public debate should be engaged to talk about it to remove guilt and silence related to abortion and sex. By discussing and demanding free and safe abortion openly; it did not matter how polarizing the topic is, it will assist in de-criminalizing it and deal with it as a social challenge that affects most women of child-bearing ages. It will save lives of thousands of women in our societies.
The decision to terminate pregnancy is not simple or casual. Such decisions are typically motivated by diverse interrelated reasons. A woman will have looked at all aspects of her life: economically, can she afford yet another child, morally if she is single what will family or the members of her church view her, are they going to accept her, socially; was she forced by the boyfriend to abort, or did the boyfriend abscond when he realised she had become pregnant? All these are questions unbeknown to societies that judge abortion as evil.
When a woman finally takes that final decision; an abortion is terminated, it does not end there as there are emotional and psychological aspects she must deal with. The emotional consequences of abortion are guilt, anxiety, regret, shame, sense of loss, anger, depression moods, sense of loneliness and isolation, loss of self confidence, insomnia or nightmares, suicidal thoughts, and feelings, eating disorders, the list is long.
Curiously very few women who have aborted can deal with these side effects effectively, even if it was her decision to do so. These negative effects of post abortion are a direct response to the societal perception about abortion, the stigma related to it and the reaction of society to her actions. Women who have aborted are denied support; she may be body-shamed and labelled a loose woman or a witch. The woman faces disapproval from her family, the society, and the church wholly unforgiving, will have broken the social norms: non tolerance to abortion. These are women specific reasons why they abscond their homes and flee to far way countries where there is a chance to patch their lives together.
When these unwanted children are born: Why would a woman take a child and dump it at the marketplace? Have we not heard of women who threw newly born babies in Blair toilets immediately after the baby was born? What about a young woman who beheaded her son of two years old in Matabeleland North? A new-born baby was discovered buried in a shallow pit, crying, alarmed a passer-by who rescued it. Some babies are thrown in sewage waters. These cases are quite common in our societies; these are daily occurrences and yet they will still moralize and scandalize abortions. Would it not have been better an abortion that to criminalize a woman about homicide nine months later? There are so many examples of unwanted children in our midst. It is in this loaded contest that I believe not all children should be born abortion should be made safe to those girls and women who want their pregnancies terminated. Incidences of this nature can be avoided if abortion was legal, free, and safe for those who want abortion.