Saturday, November 22, 2008

South Africa makes abortion progress

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: Deaths from back street abortions have dropped by 91% in the decade since South Africa became one of the few African countries to legalize abortion, health care workers said.

Speaking on International Women’s Day at a conference, Elizabeth Maguire, president of Ipas, an U.S.-based reproductive rights organization, hailed the progress South Africa has made in making safe abortions accessible to more women. But health care workers said abortion still carried a stigma, and an anti-abortion group said the anniversary was no cause for celebration.

“South Africa stands as a great success story and clearly leads the region in advancing women’s reproductive health and rights,” she said Thursday.

South African legislation, passed in 1996, allows unrestricted abortions until the 12th week of pregnancy. Nearly 530,000 women had abortions between 1997 and 2006, according to figures provided by Ipas South Africa with 11 percent being provided to girls under 18 years old.

The risk of death from unsafe abortions is higher in Africa than in any other region with about 4.2 million unsafe operations being performed and 30,000 related deaths a year, said Maguire.

“The greatest tragedy is that the deaths and injuries from unsafe abortions are largely preventable. This has been shown very dramatically in South Africa,” she said.

Maguire said a number of African countries are introducing abortion law reform. Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Swaziland and Togo have enacted additional conditions under which abortion is legal. Mozambique is also considering liberalizing its abortion laws, she said.

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