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Illegal Abortion Industry Thriving In Zimbabwe

3 September 2021

The illegal abortion industry is thriving in Zimbabwe with reports suggesting that illegal abortions rose from 60 000 in 2016 to 80 000 in 2019.

Under Zimbabwe's 1977 Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is only legally permitted under certain circumstances. If conducted illegally, it carries a penalty of up to five years in jail and or a fine.

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This has, however, not stopped many women, and even minors from having illegal abortions or deregistered doctors from performing the procedure.

The Termination of Pregnancy Act only permits abortion if there is a serious threat to the mother's life, a risk of permanent impairment to her physical health or grave physical or mental defects that may lead to severe handicap in the child, or if the fetus was conceived as a result of rape, incest, or intercourse with a mentally handicapped woman.

47-year-old Jaison Hove, whose medical license was revoked a decade ago, is now allegedly involved in facilitating backdoor abortions in Mabvuku, Harare - an accusation he denies.

While many who know the former doctor say he is now richer than he was while practising medicine, he has vehemently rejected claims that he has had any part in helping local women get illegal abortions. Hove told Anadolu Agency:

I stopped practising more than 10 years ago when I was accused of facilitating backdoor abortions, which wasn't true. I don't do illegal abortions.

Backyard abortion facilities are often run by unlicensed midwives and deregistered medical practitioners and carry the risk of severe complications.

A survey carried out by a local journal known as PLOS ONE revealed that 4 out of 10 women who undergo abortions in Zimbabwe experience such complications, including haemorrhages or infection, with some even dying in the process.

51-year-old Muchineripi Gumbo, who sells illegal abortion pills or herbs believed to end unwanted pregnancies in Harare, says her herbs are "harmless" and cost "just $25".

Apart from deregistered doctors, public hospital staff are also in on the illegal abortions trade, helping them smuggle out abortion drugs.

One illegal doctor in Harare, who declined to be named fearing reprisal, told Anadolu Agency that in a good month he gets US$5 000 from performing illegal abortions. The doctor said:

Staff in public hospitals sell us abortion drugs ... which when used, forces the uterus to contract, allowing it to eject any pregnancy-related tissue during or following an abortion.

Per abortion, I make roughly $150 to $200 and in a good month, I make sure I attend to about 15 to 25 abortion cases. It's a lot of money if you make your calculations.

However, this has placed many lives at risk, with the Demographic Health Survey in Zimbabwe saying 30% of maternal mortalities are due to unsafe abortions.

The maternal mortality rate in Zimbabwe currently stands at 614 deaths per 100,000 live births, one of the highest worldwide, according to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

More: Anadolu Agency