Let’s end unnecessary delays to safe abortions for rape victims

Guest Column: Edinah Masiyiwa

RUDO Moyo (not her real name) is a 19-year-old who lives in the Guruve district of Zimbabwe.

Rudo was raped by a relative and two months later, she discovered that she was pregnant as a result of the rape.

She immediately reported the case to the police, who prepared a report and according to the law, the matter was taken to court in Guruve.

Upon hearing the case, the magistrate ordered an ultrasound scan to determine the gestational age of the pregnancy.

But the ultrasound machine at Guruve District Hospital was not working.

Rudo had to go to a private provider, which Rudo and her family could not afford.

A women’s organisation working in the district assisted her with the payment and a scan was done.

Rudo was finally issued with a certificate to terminate her pregnancy. She had a safe abortion at 19 weeks.

Rudo was one of the lucky women to get the safe abortion, but the trauma and delays she had to endure were unnecessary.

Imagine going for weeks carrying a pregnancy you clearly know you do not want while you follow processes not even required at law.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act does not say the magistrate should determine the duration of the pregnancy.

It doesn’t even give the duration at which a pregnancy should be terminated if it is a result of rape.

These delays undermine what the law is meant to do: To protect the dignity of women who have gone through trauma by offering them an opportunity to have a safe abortion.

In fact, these delays may lead to more unsafe abortions if women need to seek illegal abortions past the 20-week mark.

According to research conducted by Guttmacher Institute, there are an estimated 66 800 abortions in Zimbabwe annually — most of them unsafe.

The study further highlights that in practice, it is rare and difficult to access a safe abortion even when this is allowed under the law. Women end up having unsafe abortions.

In fact, four out of 10 women who had clandestine abortions experienced complications such as infection and severe bleeding. Complications from unsafe abortion can lead to death.

Beyond the cost to human life, there is an economic incentive to treat women in a timely and safe manner as it costs more to treat someone who has had an unsafe abortion than to provide a safe abortion.

A pint of blood that might be needed to treat complications from an unsafe abortion costs $145; and if a woman is taken to theatre to have the uterus cleaned, it costs even more.

Meanwhile, a safe abortion costs about $100, and there is no need for blood transfusion or surgery.

The Justice ministry should implement the recommendations that were given in the judgment of Mildred Mapingures’ case.

Mildred ended up delivering a child conceived as a result of rape. According to the judgment, the police failed in their duty to assist Mildred in accessing timely services in order to prevent the pregnancy.

The same was said about the doctor. Mildred, like Rudo, was let down by the process.

Zimbabwe’s international reputation is on the line if we do not address this issue.

Following the 2012 shadow report to the Convention of Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), Committee Zimbabwe agreed to address the issue of access to safe abortions, particularly for rape survivors — a gap that was highlighted by civil society.

The follow-up report is due to the CEDAW in February 2020. As the government and civil society prepare their reports, there has never been a better time to ensure all rape survivors have access to swift and safe abortion services.

While many in Zimbabwe still oppose abortion altogether, the government has already established that rape survivors should have access to safe abortion.

Yet the hurdles still exist — from doctor’s appointments to ultrasound scans — ultimately leading women to take what seems like the easier way out of their predicament — an unsafe abortion.

We need a simpler, and more effective system. The courts should immediately issue a certificate of termination — allowing doctors and patients alone to ascertain whether it is safe or not to terminate the pregnancy.

This will minimise the trauma that the woman goes through, and save lives. It’s the least we can do for our sisters, mothers, and daughters, who have already been through so much, particularly in the case of rape.

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