Western Cape health department targets TOP service
The Cape High Court will today hear an urgent application by Marie Stopes clinics alleging that the actions of the Western Cape Provincial Department of Health have put women’s right to access terminations of pregnancy under threat.
In May this year, Marie Stopes clinics in the Western Cape received a notice from the Department threatening criminal sanctions if they continued to operate without applying for a license in terms of provincial regulations relating to private hospitals.
Noluthando Ntlokwana, an attorney at the Women’s Legal Centre which is representing Marie Stopes clinics, said this was despite the fact that the clinics are designated to conduct terminations by the National Department of Health in terms of the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (the Choice Act).
‘This has never been a requirement in the past, nor is it a requirement imposed by other provinces,’ said Ntlokwana, who added that Marie Stopes was opposing it ‘out of principle’.
‘The (Western Cape) health minister is relying on an Act that does not pertain to Marie Stopes and its activities,’ said Ntlokwana.
The Constitution guarantees women access to reproductive health and freedom of choice regarding their bodies. This right is given effect in the Choice Act. The State is obliged to provide this service, but lacks the capacity and resources in many places. Marie Stopes has stepped in countrywide to offer this service to women at an affordable price.
The Women’s Legal Centre will be taking the Province’s decision on review. The Centre will argue that the process followed by the Department is irregular and that the Department has exceeded its powers.
Further, the regulations are not applicable to facilities designated in terms of the Choice Act.
Ntlokwana says the parties had been in discussions over the past couple of months in order to resolve the matter, and the Department agreed that the clinics could continue to operate pending the review of the decision. The Department narrowly averted an urgent application earlier this year by reaching this agreement.
‘However, the Department then terminated the discussions stating that they would serve no meaningful purpose, and gave the clinics notice to comply with the provincial regulations. This leaves Marie Stopes with no option but to approach the High Court for urgent interim relief pending the finalization of its court review of the decision of the Department of Health.’
Western Cape health department spokesperson Faiza Steyn confirmed that Marie Stopes had been instructed to ‘register’.
She said this was in addition to a designation that the Minister issued to a facility to operate as a facility where terminations could take place.
Steyn said the matter was sub judice and declined any further comment. ‘ Health-e News Service