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STOKING FIRE: Increase in Legal Abortions in South Africa Galvanizes Anti-Choicers

Written by Eleanor J. Bader forRH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at theoriginal post.

Eighteen years ago, people everywhere cheered as apartheid fell. But despite the collapse of the despised regime, conditions in South Africa remain bleak and large segments of the population continue to live in abject poverty, with little access to healthcare or schooling 

According to The Lancet, under ANC rule life expectancy for both men and women has plummeted to age 60. HIV/AIDS is at epidemic levels, with 5.5 million of the country's 50 million residents living with the virus. In addition, the injury death rate, 157.8 per 100,000, is twice the global average. What's more, each year 23,000 newborns die within the first four weeks of life and an additional 23,000 births are stillborn. Other health problems including diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney disease, and mental illness are also on the rise. And then there's domestic violence. The Lancet highlights the fact that the nation's female homicide rate is six times the world average, with 50 percent of victims killed by partners with whom they'd once been intimate. 

Abortion, however, has been legal since 1997. Although 14 African nations presently outlaw the procedure, South Africa -- along with Cape Verde, Tunisia, and Zambia -- has liberalized its law to allow women to terminate unwanted pregnancies -- for any reason during the first trimester and in specific circumstances later on.  

Aaron Motsoaledi, the country's health minister, reported that 77,771 legal abortions were performed in 2011, a 31 percent increase over 2010. This statistic has rattled South Africa's growing anti-abortion movement, sending it into a frenzy of activity to roll back the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act passed 16 years ago.

Not surprisingly, this pleases the U.S. antiabortion movement and they've primed their African allies to organize Life Chains, rallies, marches and picket lines in front of the clinics and hospitals that offer abortion care. But that's not all. Heartbeat International,  a 41-year-old anti-abortion group that is headquartered in Ohio, is one of several groups that have assisted the troops in establishing a network of nearly 100 Crisis Pregnancy Centers throughout the country. Their ethos? Opposing not only abortion, but contraception, too. 


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