November 2016

The negative effect of abortion stigma in my community

By Alexander A. Sakyi, volunteer at Planned Parenthood Association of Ghana

One day an old man said to me, “You can’t tell me I didn’t see what I saw”. And this is very true when it comes to matters bewildering people in our communities. One such problem I would like to talk about is abortion.

I live currently in Noyem, a village in the Birim North district of Ghana. As of 1985, Ghanaian law permits abortion in cases of rape, incest or the “defilement of a female idiot;” if the life or health of the woman is in danger; or if there is risk of fatal abnormality. In 2007 it was found that only 3% of pregnant women and only 6% of those seeking an abortion were aware of the legal status of abortion. Almost half of abortions in Ghana remain unsafe.

Abortion is a generally perceived in Ghana as an act of evil and sin because of the cultural background of the various ethnic groups present here. It’s regarded as a taboo because there’s a belief deviant girls are the ones who do it. Even so this affects all people in the communities. A lot are practising unsafe abortion to their detriment.

Several girls, out of ignorance,  have died through unsafe abortion, leaving behind their family in sorrow. Some who were the hopeful breadwinners have locked their fate in death through unsafe abortion. Girls and younger women are more likely than older women to experience unsafe abortion because they don’t have the right information and can’t always reach proper clinics.

The chiefs are silent on it, the assemblymen are also quiet, and the politicians seem unperturbed. There’s no voice of change.

What happens at the end of the day, when a young girl dies from unsafe abortion? There’s reduction in school-going youth. A family ends their day in dilemma; having lost a precious child. Girls and women who have had unsafe abortions and survived are ridiculed and despised. We need to share information about safe abortion through comprehensive sexuality education and empowerment of leaders, to make sure more young people are taught about their rights under the law so that they can stay safe.


The experience is difficult – step into our shoes

This blogpost is reproduced with permission from the Ipas Youth Act site and is part of a joint initiative between Ipas and IPPF’s Western Hemisphere Region Youth Network.

My name is Josefina*, I’m from Caracas, Venezuela, and I am 26 years old. I’m a lawyer, activist at PLAFAM, and I was part of International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere’s Youth Network.

When I was 23, I experienced firsthand what it is to have an abortion, although in previous years I encountered this issue when a friend became pregnant when we were 18 and her family would not let her have an abortion. I had one, but my family still doesn’t know all the things I lived through during the process. I’m now married and expecting a baby.

What are the main barriers in access to abortion services you’ve seen in your country or community?

Beyond the legal barrier there’s the stigma that exists around abortion, especially when those who discriminate against women who had abortions, or choose this option, are health professionals. [Editor’s note: Abortion is legal only to save a woman’s life in Venezuela.] Another barrier is economic, usually this procedure is very expensive and very few women can afford it. It gets very difficult when you find out how much it will cost, and it’s at this point where many women look for “cheaper” ways, even if it represents a threat to their life.

Why should abortion be legal? What are the consequences of making it a crime? Why do you think it is a right?

Criminalizing abortion does not mean that people will stop doing to it, prohibiting abortion only leads to its clandestine practice without health controls or guarantee that a trained specialist provides it.

We all have the right to decide, there are no second-class citizens, and women are no less than anyone else for wanting to be able to decide about their bodies and lives. No one should force you to carry an unwanted pregnancy.

What is the role of men in the movement for access to safe and legal abortion?

I agree this is an issue that concerns everyone. Men can express their opinions; it would be interesting. They can provide adequate information, empower people and give support to women both at political and personal levels. Be active players like us. However, on the subject of the decision it is something that only women can make.

What is your message for policymakers regarding the right to abortion?

I have two messages. One for women who choose to have an abortion: You should choose the best method and the best person who can do it, keeping in mind that it’s necessary to acquire family planning services to prevent another unwanted pregnancy. Equally, we must be very patient because it is not easy to be in that situation. I lived that experience three years ago and almost died because of it, and even then many judged me and said I opted for the easy way. It is not easy to go to college and work without being able to ask for leave because basically what you did is not legal in your country. It is not easy being in that situation without being able to ask someone for help or support.

And for people in political positions: The experience is difficult. Step into our shoes.

* Using a pseudonym to protect the author’s confidentiality.


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