Nurses in revolt over South Africa's abortion law
South Africa's new pro-abortion law has split the nation, with many doctors and nurses refusing on ethical grounds to carry out the abortions, even though facilities are overwhelmed by demand.
With 104 beds and modern equipment, Empangeni Hospital, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, seemed the obvious choice as a regional centre for abortion when abortions were legalised in February. But nine months later, only three of its 300 nurses have agreed to assist with abortions. Dr Leon van den Berg, the hospital superintendent is adamantly opposed to abortion.
"Here in Zululand people are not keen on abortion," he said. "In a hospital like ours where all the nurses are black, no one wants to touch it with a barge pole. It goes against their culture. If my boss, Nelson Mandela, says we have to do abortions then we will do them. But it's a hot potato. It's just not popular."
The Termination of Pregnancy Act passed by parliament in October last year is one of the most sensitive pieces of legislation to be introduced by the African National Congress since it took office in May 1994. It allows for abortion on demand in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, even for minors.
Since it became law, the health service has struggled to cope. Nearly 13,000 abortions were performed at state hospitals in the first six months of the law. Almost half were undertaken in Johannesburg's hospitals and they have met only half the demand. Adding to the pressure, women from neighbouring countries where abortion is either not easily available or illegal, are pouring south to take advantage of South Africa's free facility.
But the law's extreme provisions anger many Afrikaners and Africans whose cultures are united in their support for life. Christian and Muslim lobbies have joined forces to oppose it. There is even dissent within the ANC, many of whose MPs are bitter that the leadership denied them a free vote on the issue.
UPDATE JULY, 1998:
South Africa -- Nurses who in any way obstructed women from having abortions were breaking the law and could face legal action, a Marie Stopes Clinic spokesman warned on Tuesday.
A number of nurses were discouraging women from abortion, by either refusing to help them with the requisite referal or by giving them information about abortion alternatives.
South Africa's new pro-abortion law allows that a woman can sue a nurse or other medicalprofessional for denying her an abortion or abortion information. Someone charged could face a fine or a prison term of up to 10 years.
Source: The Pro-Life Infonet (firstname.lastname@example.org)