July 17, 2014

News |

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

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:

For more information, contact [email protected]