The multi-pronged dilemma of abortion

A CROWD gathers around the dumpster and many are busy taking videos of the lifeless body of a new born baby.
BY PHYLLIS MBANJE

The horrible sight is made worse by the garbage and filth that surrounds the tiny pink mass covered in blood. Its tiny hands are balled into fists, most probably he/she gave a good fight before the cold got the better of its underdeveloped lungs.

Many are upset with the “monster mother” who just threw away her newborn and walked away as if all was in order.
Baby dumping or foetuses clogging sewer pipe is not new in this country neither have we seen the last of it.
This social scourge is an indication of bigger problems of sexual reproductive health (SRH), particularly termination of pregnancy or abortion.

Abortion remains an elephant in the room and no one wants to “soil” their hands by discussing the many issues around it. The glaring truth is that abortion is carried out in backyards of many homes as well as private consulting rooms. The frightening statistics of over 70 000 illegal abortions every year, are a sad reality of the situation which has gone unresolved for years.

In Zimbabwe, abortion is highly restricted as provided for by the Termination of Pregnancy Act and permitted only in cases of rape, incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, or when the child may be born with serious mental or physical disabilities.

Restrictive abortion laws are not associated with lower levels of abortion, but are associated with increased abortion-related morbidity and mortality.

Researchers from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Zimbabwe College of Health Sciences, Harare in collaboration with Guttmacher Institute, Manhattan said abortion-related morbidity and concomitant mortality could be reduced in Zimbabwe by liberalising the abortion law.

The statistics

According to the cross sectional study by the researchers which appeared in BMJ Open Access Journal 2018, estimates of maternal mortality attributable to abortion complications in Zimbabwe range from 6% to 23%.

In 2017, the Health ministry estimated that illegal abortions were contributing 16% of maternal deaths, half of whom were adolescents. It was also reported that over 2 000 young women ages 17 to 25 sought post-abortion care at public health facilities.

Post abortion care is not illegal and no questions are asked when a woman presents herself at a health facility.
Women often under-report induced abortion due to stigma and fear of being reported to police; for example, 52% of adolescent girls in Zimbabwe believe an unmarried woman seeking treatment in public facilities for post abortion complications will be reported to the police.


Globally unsafe abortion remains an important cause of maternal morbidity and mortality and between 2010 and 2014, about 25,1 million unsafe abortions occurred annually, largely (97%) in low/middle-income countries. Nearly 22 000 women died due to unsafe abortions in 2014, and many more suffered serious injuries. Approximately 12% of maternal deaths globally are attributed to abortion (this includes ectopic pregnancies).

Of the estimated 6,2 million unsafe abortions in Africa yearly, one-third occur in Eastern Africa, where Zimbabwe is located.

Zimbabwe failed to meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goal of reducing the maternal mortality ratio (MMR) by 75%.
Moral, community dictates

Zimbabwe is largely a Christian nation and that has resulted in many people becoming moralistic when it comes to debates on abortion. For the bulk of this group, abortion is murder of an innocent soul and those who abort are no different from cold-hearted killers.

These moral crusades have become a barrier to debates on the subject. Outspoken legislator Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga has raised the issue countless times in Parliament and on other platforms, but has been met with stiff resistance.

Human rights /Women’s rights

Marie Stopes International is one of the few organisations that advocate for women to be accorded full rights when it comes to their bodies.

The organisation has affiliates in many countries including Zimbabwe, but because of the restrictive laws their campaigns are largely on access to other family planning methods.

A 2018 survey on the Constitution of Zimbabwe found that 40% of respondents favoured full constitutional abortion rights, 39% supported abortion rights in certain instances, and 19% were completely opposed to any constitutional abortion rights.

The survey results showed that Zimbabwean men were more supportive of abortion rights than women, with 46% of men supporting full rights for women to an abortion, compared to 39% of women holding the same view.

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