Stigma keeps women from seeking counselling before abortion

Stigma keeps women from seeking counselling before abortion

When Maria terminated her pregnancy in 2007 she had no idea how it would continue to haunt her.

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At the time she was in an abusive relationship and felt she had no other option. Her boyfriend at that time put a lot of pressure on her, and they both felt it was too early for them to have a baby.

“I still remember how I struggled to make decisions decision. But my boyfriend kept on saying ‘We are not ready’,” said Maria, who decided to go ahead with the procedure without having the counselling that is recommended both before and after a termination.

One decade later and Maria still wonders what would have happened if she had made a different choice. Her child would have turned 10 years old this year.

“Every time when I look at girls I become emotional. When I did the termination the foetus was at such an early stage that the gender couldn’t be determined. But these days, never having had a daughter, that termination still affects me very badly,” she said.

According to the Thuthuzela Care  Centre coordinator, it is normal for a woman to later feel that she did not make a properly informed decision. And for those who go through it, their emotions are sparked by different triggers.

“I think before abortion a person is stressing much about the pregnancy. That is why we recommend that people should go for counselling so that they can make informed decisions,” said Nokonwaba Nowewe, a sexual violence victim psychologist with the Thuthuzela Care Centre in Kuruman.

Nowewe said during their community dialogues about sexual violence healthcare workers were sure to disseminate information about pregnancy terminations, highlighting both the advantages and disadvantages, along with a referral to the relevant unit at the hospital.

‘Too much stigma’

Maria said she chose never to speak about her termination after it happened, but now that years have passed she feels that “keeping it a secret is eating me up inside“.

“I decided to keep quiet because there is too much stigma attached to people who are doing abortions in my community, and also my religion does not allow abortion,” she explained.

I think before abortion a person is stressing much about the pregnancy. That is why we recommend that people should go for counselling so that they can make informed decisions.

“Sometimes a situation can trigger the emotions. Like if you opted for a termination because you were unemployed and could not afford a baby, by the time the person becomes financially stable they will think of having a baby and that will always trigger the past,” said Nokonwaba .

“Also, if the person later has difficulty conceiving, depression might come back. In fact, many other reasons could cause it, such as marking the birth month if she knew her due date. She lives with the idea that ‘My child could be this age’ or ‘Today would have been her birthday’,” added Nokonwaba.

In rural areas like Kuruman, it is not easy for people to openly talk about abortion. However, the Department of Health has programmes in place, such as adolescent-friendly services within local clinics which give young people choices for birth control.

These programmes are made available to reduce street abortions and the use of other methods which can be harmful to people.

Maria has been admitted to Tshwaragano Hospital with depression and will be referred for further sessions with a psychologist after she is discharged. – Health-e News

*Maria is not the woman’s real name. She asked that her identity not be disclosed.

An edited version of this story was published by Health24.