It is sad and disappointing that in 2020, women in Namibia are still pleading with the government to allow us to access the full abundance of our Sexual Health and Reproductive Rights. The questions, why are we being denied the freedom of choice to decide what happens with our own bodies, why are our lives not valued enough to prevent unsafe abortions through the legalisation of all safe abortions, and why is an apartheid abortion law chaining Namibian woman to its shackles, linger on my lips!
Abortion is a method of family planning and as such, should form part and parcel of reproductive health services offered in Namibia. Family planning is about being able to decide if and when to have a child or children, as well as the spacing of those children; and so abortion, just like emergency contraceptives and long term contraceptives all form part of family planning. Talking about family planning without talking about abortion, is speaking a half-truth. The use of contraception only reduces the need for abortion but does not completely eliminate the need for safe and legal abortion for all women regardless of the circumstances under which they got pregnant.
Contraceptives are not perfect, nor are they consistently available to all Namibian women at all times as reported in the Namibian Newspaper in an article entitled, Contraception Disaster Hits Namibia. The article reports that the Executive Director of Health confirmed that there was a shortage of contraceptives in Namibia, and as a result, the Minister of Health is reported to have urged Namibian women and girls to abstain from sex or use condoms in order to prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. Again, the responsibility of preventing unwanted or unplanned pregnancies, carrying pregnancies to term and raising children is placed solely on Namibian women, and yet we do not have the liberty to choose to opt-out of that responsibility.
It is a sad reality that Namibian women are forced into either carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, condemned as criminals (for failing to use contraceptives effectively or not being able to negotiate safe sex with abusive partners or die due to dangerous backdoor abortions). These are the horrific options Namibian women are left with as opposed to the right to choose, including respect and protection of their bodily autonomy. That is what the apartheid era abortion law dictates, a law that was developed during a time when all human beings were not seen as equals, and human rights were denied to Black People. So, it is no surprise to learn that the people within our population who suffer the most as a direct result of the Sterilization and Abortion Act (1975), are poor Black women. Privileged women who have financial means are able to access safe and legal abortions in neighboring countries like South Africa and they are also most likely to have consistent access to regular contraceptives.
So why have the Powers that Be alongside religious organisations been so hellbent on controlling what Namibian women do with their own bodies? Why can’t we be granted the freedom to practice body autonomy, to make decisions about what happens with our own wombs, and exercise our right to choose? Perhaps it has something to do with an attempt at upholding a patriarchal society that seems to thrive on dominating and controlling women both within religious institutions and within the state.
Because giving all Namibian women access to safe and legal abortions, regardless of the circumstance of the pregnancy, without explanation and without judgment or discrimination creates a new status quo. Legalising all safe abortions for all Namibian women would give rise to a society in which women are in control of their own bodies and can enjoy sex, just like men, without the fear of consequence, empowers women and saves women’s lives. Legalising all safe abortions for all Namibian women would give rise to a society that sees women as fully capable of making their own decisions, women who feel respected and protected by Namibian law, and who can enjoy a more equal society.