Abortion - fact and fallacy

SAYWHAT - Addressing societal attitudes towards termination of pregnancy

There are many prevailing misconceptions about abortion, largely because the controversial nature of the subject makes many people unwilling to learn more about it. However, examining the facts and determining what is the truth and what is not is the first step towards ensuring that everyone has access to safe and legal abortion; the biggest barrier to achieving this is people’s attitudes.

The first belief is that permitting would create a society of chaos in which the number of women who terminate pregnancies will reach unprecedented levels. However, it has been proven that availability of safe abortion services does not lead to an increase in the number of abortions. In fact, rates of abortion are very high in countries where abortion is illegal or only permissible under very limited circumstances.

Furthermore, to suggest that permitting abortion would create a society in which women kill their unborn children undermines the reasoning capacities of women. No woman in her right mind would choose to conceive a child only to abort it. In fact, abortion is the route many young women choose to embark upon when they feel they are out of options. Legalising abortion does not transform it from a desperate measure to a norm.


Many people feel that abortion is similar to murder, as it results in the loss of the life of the unborn. There are heated debates on the controversial subject of the stage at which a foetus can be considered a human being. The fact remains that as long as women cannot access safe abortion services, the number of unsafe abortions will continue to increase. If a safe abortion procedure does indeed cost a life, then an unsafe abortion procedure can cost two lives – that of a foetus and that of the mother.

In countries where abortion is prohibited or only allowed under restricted circumstances, women resort to dangerous methods to terminate their pregnancies, thereby risking their own lives. Demanding the availability of safe abortion services is not meant to devalue or undermine the sanctity of human life but to preserve it because the human cost of unsafe abortions far outweighs that of safe abortions.

Another common misconception is that providing safe abortion services will give rise to a thriving abortion industry, in which people who provide abortion services become wealthy. However, the prevalence of illegal abortion providers costs more in terms of public health spending, due to the increasing numbers of women who need post-abortion treatment. According to the Guttmacher Institute, an estimated 6.9 million women in developing countries were treated for complications of unsafe abortion in 2012.

The objectives of safe abortion service providers must not be confused with the objectives of backstreet abortionists. Backstreet abortionists seek to capitalise and earn money from the desperation of women, whereas safe abortion service providers give women the opportunity to make decisions about their bodies without endangering their lives.

Abortion is remains a controversial subject. However, while many scholars, experts and lay people discuss the biological, ethical, religious and cultural dimensions of abortion, more and more young women in developing countries put themselves at risk of dying or permanently damaging their health by resorting to backstreet abortionists. It is therefore time that the lives of these women are taken into consideration over anything else.



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Zimbabwe youth organisation SAYWHAT has been awarded a grant from the Regional SRHR Fund to develop and run its campaign for the decriminalisation of abortion. The Fund is supported by the Ford Foundation and Hivos Southern Africa.