29 Oct 1996


29 October 1996


The Termination of Pregnancy Bill is the most important piece of health
legislation to come before Parliament in this session. It puts into effect
the constitutional right of persons to make decisions concerning reproduction
and security in, and control over, their bodies. The right to allow women
to terminate pregnancy is not only in the Constitution, but it is a clear
ANC policy and was in the ANC`s 1994 election manifesto. On this basis,
the ANC Caucus will be voting for the Bill.

The Main Features of the Bill

Under the Bill, a woman will have the right to choose to have an abortion
during the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy.

From the 13th to the 20th weeks of pregnancy, she may choose to have
an abortion if a doctor is of the opinion that:

  • the continued pregnancy is a risk to the woman`s physical or mental
    health, or
  • there is a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer a severe physical
    or mental abnormality, or
  • the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or
  • the pregnancy would severely affect the woman`s social and economic

After the 20th week of pregnancy, abortion can still take place if the
pregnancy would endanger the woman`s life or severely deform the foetus.

Abortion can only occur with the consent of the pregnant woman, unless
she is incapable of consent.

Why is the Bill Being Introduced?

The Bill is being introduced for compelling medical reasons. The Bill
does not introduce abortion into South Africa - abortions are already being
carried out, either unlawfully, or lawfully under the 1975 Abortion and
Sterilization Act. The Bill instead seeks to regulate an existing situation
under which:

  • 200,000 abortions take place every year - 2,500 are lawful
  • 45,000 women end up in hospital with incomplete abortions - 99 per
    cent of them black
  • 425 women die in hospital every year from septic abortions - all are
  • 7,000 women become moderately sick, and 6,000 become severely ill because
    of back-street abortions or inadequate services.

The health service is already bearing a cost of over R18.5m a year to
treat women made ill through incomplete abortions; that money could be
used instead to fund 88,000 safe abortions.

Objections and Answers

O: This Bill introduces abortion into South Africa

A: Legal and illegal abortion already exist in South Africa. This Bill
neither introduces abortion, nor legalises it. It is simply seeking to
regulate what is already happening outside the law. The choice is between
illness and death through self-inflicted and back-street abortions, or
safe abortion properly regulated by professional health services.

O: This Bill encourages abortion

A: This Bill does not encourage abortion, it simply makes it safe. The
key to reducing abortion is not to ban it, but to prevent unwanted pregnancies
from occurring in the first place - through proper sex education, increasing
access to contraception, sterilisation, counselling and other services.
The Department of Health is already very active in improving access to
such services.

O: This Bill is immoral

A: This is not a morality Bill, but a health Bill. There will never
be consensus on the morality of abortion. The Government has not taken
a moral position, but has introduced this Bill on health grounds alone,
although it respects the moral and religious views and convictions of all
in society. The Government must carry out its duty to protect the health
of its citizens.

O: This Bill is imposing abortion on people

A: This Bill protects freedom of choice. It will allow women the freedom
of choice to terminate a pregnancy if they wish, and it will allow women
the freedom to choose not to have an abortion. Every woman must be allowed
to exercise her choice without imposing it on others.

O: This Bill does not allow doctors or health professionals who oppose
abortion freedom of choice

A: The Bill does not make a specific provision for the conscientious
objection among health professionals to participation in abortion, because
that right already exisits in the Constitution.

O: This Bill prevents consultation with partners and families on
the decision to have an abortion

A: The Bill does not force women to consult their partners and
families. The absence of a duty to consult is required to protect women
and children who suffer violent abuse, rape and incest. In healthy relationships,
there would be consultation. But the Bill is not dealing with an ideal
world; it is dealing with the reality in which women`s lives could be a
risk if forced to consult.

O: This Bill could lead to women undergoing abortions against their

A: Abortion will only be carried out on a woman who requests one and
if the doctor is satisfied that the pregnancy would endanger the physical
or mental health of the woman, or her economic and social well-being, or
if there is a substantial risk that the foetus would suffer a severe physical
or mental abnormality, or if the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest.

Key Lines on the Bill

It will take women having abortions out of back-street abortion clinics
and into safe hospitals.

It will save the lives of hundreds of women a year who would otherwise
die from illegal abortions.

It will safely regulate a practice which would otherwise continue
unsafely regardless of the law.

It will ensure all women have equal access to safe abortions, regardless
of race, class, age or geographical location - currently, mostly only white
women have access to safe, legal abortions.

It will guarantee the constitutional right of women to make choices
about their reproductive health.

It is one of the manifesto pledges on which the ANC was elected to