State hospitals and clinics can’t meet demand for free, safe terminations of pregnancy

The figures were given in response to a parliamentary question by the African Christian Democratic Party’s Cheryllyn Dudley.

But the department also revealed that the number of abortions in state facilities had declined dramatically between 2009 and 2010.

Of the 545525 abortions at state institutions since 2004, 84478 were in 2009 and 38321 last year.

This, experts say, is because a decreasing number of state nurses are prepared to perform the procedure and there are long waiting lists at government institutions.

The department’s response to the question revealed that 86074 abortions were performed in 2004, 89850 in 2005, 86891 in 2006, 69243 in 2007, 90668 in 2008, 84478 in 2009 and 38321 in 2010.

Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said there was “no reason to doubt the accuracy of the statistics”.

But Laila Abbas, advocacy manager of the private abortion clinic group, Marie Stopes, said the number of abortions at the group’s clinics had increased by an average of 10% a year since 1997.

Last year, the group performed 51185 abortions at its 23 clinics around the country, 13000 more than the abortions recorded by the state sector. But, Abbas said, the state’s record-keeping was poor.

She said that reduced access to a free, state abortion service, and lack of money to pay for an abortion at a private clinic, were forcing women to resort to backstreet abortion clinics, which she said were “mushrooming” throughout the country.

A spokesman for the Health Department, Fidel Hadebe, said that “abortion was never meant to be a substitute for birth control”.

“We need to increase access to reproductive health services, including contraception, for young girls so that a lot of these problems [associated with backstreet abortions] can be prevented,” Hadebe said.

“A number of the abortions done in basement or backstreet operations lead to huge problems which require our intervention”.

An unnamed midwife at a Gauteng government hospital said that she had refused to have abortion training.

“It’s against my religion. I refuse to go for training though I have learned about it in theory,” she said.

Late last year, the Western Cape Department of Health introduced free abortion pills at government clinics on a trial basis.

The tablet, described as a “non-invasive method of terminating a pregnancy”, is only for women who are less than nine weeks’ pregnant.

Marion Stevens, the co-ordinator of the charity coalition Women Working in Sexual and Reproductive Health, said that abortion was “still very stigmatised” among health workers.

“It’s easier to talk about HIV than abortion,” she said.