A Bill that seeks to force pregnant women to go through a sonar scan and mandatory counselling before they have an abortion has sparked debate that the legislation is indirectly aimed at discouraging abortions to fit a pro-life agenda at the expense of disadvantaged women.
The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Bill proposed by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) is ostensibly aimed at providing “access to ultrasound services” and “counselling” for pregnant women.
But some people have argued that it would only have the effect of delaying – and sometimes denying – disadvantaged women the access to a free and safe abortion.
The Bill would have women shown pictures of the foetus as part of the counselling process before they proceed with an abortion. Patrick Godana, spokesperson for gender rights group Sonke Gender Justice, said the legislation was not only impractical, but degrading.
Medical facilities in poorer areas, where many women seek abortion services, often did not have sonar scanning machines.
“This intention to review the Termination of Pregnancy Bill is alarming, because it is putting undue pressure on the conscience of the person seeking termination. “Another issue is it’s a well-known fact that in places like the rural Eastern Cape, where one clinic serves 32 villages, it’s a long distance to even get there and many of these clinics do not have many of the resources for such a set-up. Very few professionals are willing to go and work in those areas.”
But ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley, who introduced the Bill in parliament, said equipping remote clinics with sonar machines was an attainable and affordable goal.
“One of the common arguments against the amendments is that this will discriminate against the poor, because some clinics don’t have sonar machines. These machines cost about R17 000, which is nothing in the health budget, and if we were to actually put these machines in every clinic, it would assist not just patients who want to terminate, but also those who want to carry on with the pregnancy.”
Dudley argued it was also important that women applied their mind with as much information available before they continued with an abortion to avoid the physical and emotional trauma associated with the procedure.
“Firstly, the whole issue about when life actually begins is so contentious and if women would be able to see exactly what it is that they were terminating, they would make a more informed decision, instead of screaming mid-surgery, begging for doctors to save their babies, which is what happens a lot of the times.”
She added some patients who were administered abortion pills to deliver the foetus at home suffered more trauma.
Pre-counselling could prevent abortions where a woman was undecided.