South Africa’s Minister of Social Development calls for reproductive justice and access to safe abortion

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Honorable Bathabile Dlamini, South Africa’s Minister of Social DevelopmentThe Honorable Bathabile Dlamini, South Africa’s Minister of Social Development

At a two-day conference held in Johannesburg last month, Ipas global leaders and staff met with key government officials and civil-society partners to explore how best to continue working collaboratively toward a future for sustainable comprehensive abortion care services and to celebrate Ipas’s nearly two decades’ work in South Africa.

Calling the conference “timely and important,” the Honorable Bathabile Dlamini, South Africa’s Minister of Social Development, said in her remarks that South Africa’s progressive abortion law—the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy (CTOP) Act—has helped to significantly reduce maternal mortality resulting from unsafe abortion. Access to safe abortion care not only saves women’s lives, she said, but is a crucial element in the empowerment of women.

“We cannot talk of abortion in isolation of the overall goals to empower women socially, economically and politically,” Dlamini said. “The right of women to have an abortion should always be fully located and discussed as part of the rights—and the transformation of society—that enable the complete emancipation of women.”

Ipas first established a presence in South Africa in 1995, while working with the national Reproductive Health Research Unit (RHRU) to provide technical support for the abortion law reform then under way. Following the promulgation of the CTOP Act, which is one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, Ipas continued working with RHRU to facilitate the timely and national implementation of abortion services.

In 2001, Ipas South Africa, based in Johannesburg, opened an office to focus specifically on abortion care.  As a leading national voice for women’s reproductive health and rights, Ipas South Africa helped to increase South Africa’s capacity for delivery of safe termination of pregnancy (TOP) services in all nine provinces and also worked to educate women and communities on reproductive and sexual health and rights issues.

Ipas is now closing its South Africa office, but will continue to work collaboratively with South African partners to advance the cause of safe, accessible and affordable abortion care. 

“I have high hopes that this will serve as a renewal of a broader commitment to the need for safe and accessible abortion throughout the country,” Ipas Policy Director Charlotte Hord Smith told the gathering. “With its clear underpinnings of rights, the recognition of the damage caused by restrictive abortion legislation, and the recognition that no person is better placed to make decisions about a pregnancy than the pregnant woman herself, the CTOP Act was bold and visionary when enacted and remains so today.”

Ipas South Africa key accomplishments

As South Africa’s only nongovernmental organization focusing exclusively on abortion care, much of Ipas South Africa’s work centered on the full implementation of the CTOP Act. In all nine provinces, Ipas South Africa’s efforts increased the national health system’s capacity for delivery of safe abortion care. Ipas conducted training and clinical orientations for doctors and midwives, provided technical assistance in the development of a national abortion-care training curriculum, and helped with development of clinical guidelines for medical abortion. In four provinces—Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, North West and Free State—Ipas South Africa worked with the National Department of Health to introduce medical abortion, making safe abortion care accessible to more women.

Between 2012 and 2014 alone, 55,550 women accessed safe abortion care at 67 Ipas-supported intervention sites, and an estimated 25,805 of those women also received postabortion contraceptive services.

Ipas South Africa also carried out policy, advocacy, research, youth and community work aimed at ensuring that women—including young women—have the ability to exercise their sexual and reproductive rights, including the right to safe abortion care. Over the years, Ipas South Africa also emerged as one of the staunchest defenders against the many attempts to weaken the country’s liberal abortion law.

Looking to the future

Dlamini warned that “we have some serious issues that we need to address in relation to abortion.” Specifically, she noted that only 47 percent of the country’s public health facilities designated as abortion-care facilities are actually providing abortion services and that far too many women seeking abortion care at public facilities are met with negative attitudes by health workers. “We have to look at ensuring that all designated facilities are operational and that we reintroduce values clarification and social context training for health sector workers,” she said.

With those and other challenges in mind, the government officials and civil-society and reproductive rights representatives attending the conference spent time mapping out recommendations and next steps to ensure that legal abortion care is available, accessible and affordable for all women, including young women.

Read more about Ipas’s work in South Africa:

Ipas South Africa: Nearly Two Decades of Saving Women’s Lives

Ipas South Africa: Training and Support for Service Providers

Ipas South Africa: Enhancing women’s health through community outreach

Ipas South Africa: Promoting Young People’s Access To Sexual And Reproductive Health Care

Is the door to safe abortion services slowly closing in South Africa?

In South Africa, a doctor’s road from conservative, born-again Christian to outspoken advocate for reproductive rights

Attitudes of providers affect abortion availability in South Africa