SLICE OF LIFE: Whose body is it anyway?

I recently discovered a Facebook group called “I regret having children”. It’s a group where parents anonymously post about how they regret their (often unplanned) pregnancies and how much children have ruined their life. I had left the group absolutely certain that, at least for the next 10 years, I do not want to have children and began considering long term birth control like the Intrauterine Device (IUD). Yet, when I explained this, I was met with, “but how can you know? What if you meet someone in the next few years and they want kids?”

At the time I dismissed it, along with all the laughs I received from older people when I explained my stance. They gave me knowing winks, as if saying, “sure honey, wait a few years and then get back to me”, before asking what my hypothetical future husband would think. I then slowly began to realise how universal the attitude is.

The first realisation came when a family member described to me how she had gone to a government clinic for an IUD. She arrived only to be asked by a nurse what her future husband would think and got pressured into getting a Depo Provera injection because, according to the nurse, giving her an IUD would be a waste of government money as she would just come back to take it out in two to three years after she’d met a suitable husband.

The second came when in America, reproductive rights, which had seemed like a settled debate after Roe v Wade (1973), were thrust back into public discourse due to policy and legislative changes which threatens to roll back funding for clinics like Planned Parenthood. This has created a ripple effect felt by women in developing countries, where Donald Trump’s Global Gag Rule has led to non-profit organisations which provide women with reproductive services being defunded. As a result, millions of women have nowhere else to turn for reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services.

And to drive the matter home, just two weeks ago, medical doctor and reproductive rights activist, Dr Tlaleng Mofokeng, was left visibly frustrated as an interviewer on Afrovoices derailed a discussion about abortion access into a debate about whether or not it was the duty of black African women to birth African populations comparable to India and China.

Earlier this year, I attended a talk held at Wits Junction about access to abortion titled Whose body is it anyway? In many ways, this question has become only more relevant in 2018. To whom do women’s bodies belong? To lawmakers in faraway countries who can cut off access to reproductive services with the stroke of a pen? To future armies and workforces who need someone to provide them with young, healthy bodies? To governments who can pressure women into taking potentially harmful hormonal birth control for the sake of being economical? Or to hypothetical husbands whose feelings must be accounted for in our present day medical decisions?

What these questions point to is the invasive policing of our bodies. The societal pressure we face to have children, combined with the increasing restrictions women the world over face on reproductive healthcare, has created a suffocating scenario in which we are beginning to lose control over our own bodies. As some women resort to desperate methods like backstreet abortions to cling to that control, others deal with the devastating consequences of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies which, ironically, are often derided by the same people who oppose reproductive justice in the first place.

I believe it is impossible to envision women’s liberation without reproductive justice, because of the many ways that a lack of access to reliable contraceptives and safe abortion services directly harm the wellbeing of women. As we move into Women’s Month the central question we should be asking ourselves when it comes to reproductive issues, such access to abortions and contraceptives, should be “whose body is it anyway?”

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Wits students do not TOP numbers

Although legal abortion statistics in South Africa have gone up, a campus nurse says the numbers of students who opt to go for abortions have gone down over the last five years.

Last week Monday health minister, Aaron Mostoaledi, released statistics showing a 31 % increase from 2010’s 59,447 to 77,771.

The three provinces which ranked highest were the Free State, North-West province and Gauteng.

During 2011 there were 21, 944 abortions carried out in the Free State, followed by 12,138 in the North-West and 11,239 in Gauteng.

According to a paper by Lynette Vermaas, a researcher from the Student Development and Support (SDS) at Tswhane University of Technology (TUT), student pregnancies at tertiary institutions worldwide are increasing every year despite the assumption that students have sufficient knowledge of the risks of unprotected sex.

Campus Health and Careers Counselling and Development Unit (CCDU) work together in assisting female students make informed decisions about termination of pregnancy (TOP).

Sister Maggy Moloi, a nurse at Campus Health, said the clinic advocates for “family planning education, especially to first years [students] during Orientation Week.”

She mentioned the clinic does not, carry out abortions because it offers primary healthcare which includes services such as family planning and treatment of STIs and HIV testing.

CCDU psychologist Toinette Bradley said: “We do work with Campus Health but students wanting ToPs are usually referred to clinics and hospitals.”

Moloi said Campus Health refers students to the Marie Stopes near Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto because it’s much more affordable than the one in Ghandi Square.

When asked whether students use termination of pregnancy as a contraceptive measure she said: “Most of the students access contraceptives from the clinic. They do know about the service.”

However, she believes that generally young women do not access contraceptives from clinics because they are not educated about the different types of contraceptive measures available.

Moloi said the problem is fuelled by misconstrued information about the effects that birth control pills have on their bodies. Young women don’t communicate with their parents about sexual matters because they are considered as taboo in some families.

Although the statistics referred only to legal abortions, Sister Moloi said the biggest problem faced was that people still go for backstreet abortions and “some end up with infections or even worse, they end up dead”.

An example of this was the death of University of Johannesburg (UJ) student, Ayanda Masondo (20) earlier this year. Masondo was found dead in her residence room from what was reported to be a botched illegal abortion.

Campus Health’s relationship with CCDU helps with the possible emotional consequences of abortion.

“Those students who come back frustrated and depressed because of the abortion, then we refer them there for further counselling,” said Moloi.

She believes the clinic used to have “a huge number of students coming in for assistance for abortions but compared to five years ago to now, the numbers are very low”.

 

Published in Vuvuzela 22nd edition,31 August 2012