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Women and the right to abort



A good rule of thumb is to never argue with religious people. Logic tends to exit through the window as soon as religion comes strutting in. One matter in particular in which I have clashed with Christians is the issue of bodily autonomy, especially a woman’s choice to fall pregnant or to keep that pregnancy.

Not to err on the side of blasphemy but we are talking about a religion borne out of a woman being subjected to a pregnancy that she did not at all intend to have. It is little wonder then that religious groups, especially Christian groups, are so opposed to abortion being legalised in Lesotho.

The Christian and moralist argument has always been that to legalise abortion is to threaten the sanctity of human life. The belief is that legal abortion will prompt more women to have abortion willy-nilly. That is a non-informed opinion because women do not generally take abortion lightly. It is often the very last resort.

If anyone who opposes abortion actually checked the numbers then the fact that abortion is illegal in Lesotho has not actually deterred anyone from getting an abortion if they need one. The only thing it has achieved is that abortions are unsafe and women often die from backstreet abortions.

If indeed the moral and religious extremists are against the loss of life, then which life do they care about because lives are being lost every day? According to statistics presented by the Ministry of Health at the recent UNFPA Lesotho’s State of The World Population Report Launch 36 percent of women who get admitted to hospitals are children between 10 and 14 years of age.

These are clearly people who did not consent to have sex because no 10-year-old has the capacity for consent in any case. So are we essentially saying that these children who were obviously raped should bear the personal cost of babies they did not want or intend to have or face almost certain death or sepsis at the hands of untrained “abortion doctors”?

In the event that women of sound body and capacity also do fall pregnant and decide that they do not want the baby there is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding that as a woman you do not want to carry a pregnancy to full term in a body that is yours.

The bodily autonomy to say, no, I was not intending to fall pregnant is a right that every woman deserves. We should not have to go through trauma or be subjected to trauma for us to have the right over our own bodies. To say, as the legal system of Lesotho does, that a woman can only access a legal abortion if she has been a victim of rape is to say you can only have autonomy over your own body after someone else has violated that body.

Never mind the fact that to actually access that abortion you must first go through the trouble of reporting that rape to a police service that grows increasingly hostile to rape victims. You are faced with either going through the trauma of reporting the rape or the trauma of having an unsafe abortion so even the “benevolence “ that the legal system grants you when you have been violated is not really as foolproof as one would be led to believe.

The refusal or objection to women accessing safe and legal abortions has never even been about Christian values or morals or the sanctity of life. After all, how many children are alive in deplorable living conditions who will die from hunger while those who champion the same “sanctity of life” watch and do nothing?

No, the only reason the moralists are opposed to safe and legal access to abortion is that women in Lesotho are still being denied autonomy over their own bodies! Yes, you may have an abortion but first you must prove to us that you did not exercise your autonomous right to have consensual sex.

Did you have consensual sex with the body that is yours? Then you must bear the punishment that comes from any unintended consequences because how dare you, a woman, have sex without being forced into it!

Even the belief that women who have consensual sex will have abortions regularly and without qualms is because as a society we demonise women for having consensual sex. After all, if she is as sinful as to willingly have sex, then clearly she is also looking to murder innocent babies!

We demonise and shame women for wanting to terminate pregnancies while also demonising and shaming them for wanting to access family planning services to prevent such unintended pregnancies.

For women in Lesotho sex must always be something that happens to them without their will and with trauma, or if they are willing participants then it should be an activity fraught with anxiety or tension. That is because their thinking is that women’s bodies are for labour, childbirth or anything else but never for something as hedonistic as enjoyment. The case against legal and safe abortion is really just a case against women to have autonomy over their own bodies.

Thakane Rethabile Shale

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