Reducing Deaths From Illegal Abortion in Mozambique

Oct 112012

On Friday, September 28 – the Day of Global Action for Decriminalization of Abortion – my trainees splashed the gruesome consequences of clandestine abortion across major Mozambican media. The weekly SOL published a two-page story on abortion in Inhambane province, 500 kilometers north of Maputo, while the daily O Pais, Radio Mocambique and three Internet news sites picked up a story from the Portuguese news service LUSA by a reporter I coach, Emanuel Pereira. Another star trainee, Salane Muchanga, covered the Day of Global Action for the front page of the daily Noticias.

On the same day, Women in Law in Southern Africa-Mozambique, a non-profit organization I work with, posted an audio slideshow from the reporting trip to Inhambane that Emanuel and I took in mid-September.

September 28th was also the deadline for journalists to submit their stories for the Pascoal Mocumbi prize for the best story on abortion, offered by the Network of Associations to Defend Sexual and Reproductive Rights (DRE). Dr. Mocumbi, a former health minister and prime minister, allowed Mozambique’s central hospitals to provide safe abortions. But, because abortion is still illegal according to the Penal Code dating back to 1886, the Ministry of Health cannot openly inform women about this safe option.

Instead, as we learned in Inhambane, women resort to gruesome procedures, and unscrupulous individuals perform gruesome atrocities.

In Inhambane province alone (population 1.4 million), every day an average of six women are admitted to clinics with complications from unsafe illegal abortion. In 2011, there were 2,300 such cases, resulting in seven deaths.

The cost of saving the lives of women with botched abortions is extremely high for Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest countries: surgeries, blood transfusions, antibiotics and medical care.

The prize spurred nationwide coverage of the issue. To find out the consequences of clandestine abortion in remote places, a reporter from Radio Mocambique in Tete province travelled for an entire day by minibus taxi to Angonia district. Others went to border towns about 90 kilometers from Maputo, such as Namaacha and Ressano Garcia, along the border with Swaziland and South Africa respectively.

A Savana reporter looked at the rising abandonment of babies at Maputo’s hospitals as a result of unwanted pregnancies and low use of contraception.

“We lose too many girls to illegal abortion,” said Dr. Timoteo Jeque, at Chicuque hospital in Inhambane, which receives many victims of botched abortions. DRE hopes that widespread information about the dangers of illegal abortion will reduce these losses.