By Sally Bohrer
In Africa, only three countries (Cape Verde, South Africa, and Tunisia) have legalized abortion. In the other fifty-one countries, abortion rights vary. None have completely outlawed abortion, as all African countries allow abortions to save the mother’s life, but most do not allow abortions in any other circumstances, even in the case of rape or incest. (For a full list of abortion rights by country, visit: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/ng-interactive/2014/oct/01/-sp-abortion-rights-around-world-interactive).
In African countries where abortions are only allowed if the mother’s life is at risk, abortions are not nonexistent but actually just as prevalent (if not more prevalent) as countries like the United States where abortions are completely legal. However, in countries where abortion is not legalized, women must seek out illegal providers. These illegal abortions are not only dangerous to the mother’s health, but also have many social and economic effects that are just as costly.
Senegal is one of the African countries where abortion is allowed only in the case that it would save the mother’s life. Even though abortion is not legal, the abortion rate in Senegal is actually the same as that of the United States (17 per 1,000 in 2011) (www.guttmacher.org). However, in the United States, women rarely suffer from complications from abortion, because they are able to go to clean clinics or hospitals under the supervision of qualified doctors and nurses. In Senegal, all women must go to illegal providers, or take matters into their own hands, often with disastrous results.
The World Health Organization defines an unsafe abortion as “a procedure for terminating a pregnancy performed by persons lacking the necessary skills or in an environment not in conformity with minimal medical standards, or both” (WHO).
In countries where abortion is not completely legalized, this is what women must turn to. Unsafe methods, which include drinking bleach or inserting sharp objects into the cervix, can result in complications including hemorrhages, sepsis, infertility, infection, and death (WHO). In 2012, 51,500 Senegalese women received an illegal abortion. Approximately 55% of those abortions resulted in complications. For the poor, this percentage of complications is even higher, with 73% of poor rural women and 59% of poor urban women suffering from complications of unsafe abortions (www.guttmacher.org).
When Senegalese women get an abortion, they are not only risking their life, but also their freedom. Abortion is a criminal offense, for which women can be imprisoned. In 2015, 19% of the Senegalese women in prison were charged with infanticide and 3% were charged with clandestine abortion (FIDH).
The effects of an unsafe abortion affect many more people than just the woman. Whether the woman dies from the procedure, is seriously impaired, or is sent to jail, she leaves behind a family who relies on her for childcare, housework, and income. In impoverished communities, this is especially important, because without their mother bringing in income or caring for them, her children will likely only suffer from more poverty.
So, what can be done?
The clear solution to the problem of unsafe abortions in Senegal is to legalize it. Today, Senegalese women who choose to receive an abortion are risking death, health complications, and imprisonment, as well as the well being of her family. If abortion were to be legalized in Senegal, clinics and hospitals could be built with the proper resources and training so that women would be able to get an abortion without risking their lives. In addition, these clinics can provide post abortion care, including education on family planning and contraception, so that future unwanted pregnancies and abortions can be prevented. The Guttmacher study also reported that in 2014, only 20% of married women used a modern method of contraception. (www.guttmacher.org). Legal abortion clinics have the opportunity to have so many positive and wide-reaching effects. Women would not be dying and suffering as a result of unsafe abortions. Their children would not be suffering from the loss or impairment of their mother. More contraceptives would prevent unwanted pregnancies and also prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Giving women the right to an abortion is giving her not just the right to choose, but also the right to save her own life, and the potential to better her livelihood.