The World Health Organization reports that “in developed regions, it is estimated that 30 women die for every 100,000 unsafe abortions. That number rises to 220 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions in developing regions and 520 deaths per 100,000 unsafe abortions in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Changing the law is essential but isn’t a cure-all.
A United States government policy reinstated by Trump blocks federal funding worldwide to nongovernmental organizations that provide any kind of abortion service including advocacy, referral and counseling. Known as the “Global Gag Rule,” this policy blocks U.S. aid to nongovernmental agencies that offer any services related to abortion. Among other consequences, women in developing countries face less access to information, contraception and legal abortion. Health practitioners in Lesotho who used to offer free contraceptives, family planning advice and abortion counseling no longer have the funding to continue. Since Trump’s expansion of the U.S. policy, family planning groups have had to radically downsize outreach efforts as well as services within their facilities.
In Lesotho, a predominantly Catholic country, women who get abortions face social ostracism as well as arrest. Leaving Lesotho to have the procedure isn’t an option for most women. Women know that safe, legal abortion is available in South Africa, but they can’t afford the private doctors’ fees in that country.
Lesotho’s Minister of Health, Nkaku Kabi, announced that Queen Mamohato Memorial Hospital, the country’s only referral hospital, is filled to capacity with women suffering from the effects of unsafe abortions.
Although abortion has been legalized in neighboring South Africa, of the estimated 260,000 abortions performed there each year about half are illegal. Many qualified South African health care professionals refuse to perform abortions because it violates their cultural or religious beliefs. These practitioners can refuse to perform the procedure if they conscientiously object to it, but they are legally bound to refer patients to safe abortion providers. According to Amnesty International, this guideline isn’t well regulated and the result is lack of access to safe procedures. Economic and geographic factors also make it difficult for women to access safe abortions. Most South African health care professionals work in the private sector, leaving a dearth of available doctors in public health centers, which are the only affordable option for much of the population. Compounding the problem, women in rural areas have little access to safe terminations because they lack transportation to appropriate facilities.