Let’s talk about abortion

April 11, 2023

Dhawabu sat at the edge of her bed, scrolled through her contacts, and deeply inhaled before finally dialing Nia’s number. It took forever before Nia finally answered the phone, “Hi Nia… long time no see, no hear.” “Hi Dee, long time. You sound low, what’s up?” Nia asked. Dhawabu and Nia were former classmates, and the two rarely communicated. Still, Nia could hear the worry in Dhawabu’s voice. “A friend of mine is pregnant and needs to procure an abortion. Would you kindly assist with contacts or link me to a good professional so that I can connect her to them?” Dhawabu responded.

As a thought, it seemed easy, but the difficulty of mentioning this to anyone sent jolts of pain to her heart. “I need to talk to the friend to know how old the pregnancy is so that I  know how to help them,” said Nia. At least she was willing to help, but how would Dhawabu let her friend know that she was the one who needed the services and not someone else?  “Can you please just recommend someone instead so that the friend remains anonymous?” “No.” Nia reiterated “She can’t remain anonymous to me because I’ll have to take her to the doctor myself,” she continued. This was a relief; for a moment, Dhawabu felt at ease and began opening up in a shaky voice: “I messed up, Nia. I am pregnant. I don’t know how old my pregnancy is, but it might be weeks old. My period was due 12 days ago and I haven’t seen anything yet… I did two pregnancy tests and they turned positive. I can’t keep the child.” 

Opening up to seek help was difficult. She had settled on Nia following gossip she had heard from Pendo, a mutual friend. She did not know how important that information would be until she found herself in this situation.  Pendo had met Dhawabu during a friend’s burial and while catching up, among the many stories that came up was Nia’s. Pendo mentioned that Nia had sought advice on how to help another friend procure an abortion. “I linked her to a friend of mine who advised her on the over-the-counter drugs to buy. I doubt if it was really for a friend cause later on Zamu mentioned to me that Nia went to her seeking help on a better way to procure an abortion because her first attempt was unsuccessful.” 

Two days later, Nia and Dhawabu made their way to a small hospital in town, where Nia had earlier advised that the procedure would cost KES. 4,000. On arrival, she made a call as she led the way to the waiting bay. “Let’s wait here for a few minutes,” she said. A few minutes later, a middle-aged woman carrying a green file beckoned them to follow her. “Have you experienced any problem since we last met?” she asked Nia as they walked towards the examination room. “No, everything is fine,” she responded. After a brief discussion, Dhahabu was asked to ready herself for an ultrasound. As the doctor carried out the scan afew minutes later, she mentioned something that tugged at Dhawabu’s heart: “Hii mimba yako imejificha sana.” The doctor was having difficulty locating the fetus. 

The doctor then prescribed some drugs that she said would work to terminate the pregnancy. She also scheduled a follow-up visit after two weeks to affirm that no traces were left in Dhawabu’s uterus after the abortion. The two ladies then left the hospital, had some lunch then walked to the bus stop. “I will check on you later,” Nia whispered as she hugged Dhawabu before boarding a matatu back home. 

Though the abortion was successful, it left Dhawabu feeling emotionally and mentally shattered. She had named the baby ‘Mwanzo’ and after the abortion, she mourned for a long time. She often prayed, constantly asking for forgiveness.

The African Population and Health Research Centre (APHRC) recently held a workshop on Gender, Sexuality, and Abortion. The training which was conducted in collaboration with IPAS, focused on Value Clarification and Attitude Transformation (VCAT). Part of it involved an activity titled, “Cross the Line”. During the session, participants were supposed to cross a line drawn on the floor in affirmation of a statement as read out by the workshop facilitators. One of the statements was, “cross the line if you or anyone you know has procured an abortion”. More than 80% of the participants crossed the line. This prompted a brief discussion which revealed different issues that some of the participants were struggling with. Guilt, the burden of secrecy, doubts on women’s ability to conceive in future, fear, and self-blame.

One of the questions asked was if there was a way to harmonize beliefs, perceptions, and abortion laws to enable women procure safe abortion without hiding or using illegal and unsafe ways to get rid of pregnancies. The involvement of health and legal practitioners in community engagement to destigmatize abortion would be one way to greatly minimize mortality and morbidity rates due to unsafe abortion.

While Dhawabu’s is a success story, there are girls and women in need of safe abortion services but cannot access this because of stigma, legal prohibitions and cost hence they end up seeking unsafe ways that may result in health complications or death. Girls and women ought not to die while procuring an abortion but still according to the Kenya Obstetrical and Gynecological Society (KOGS) 2022 report on sexual reproductive health rights and unsafe abortions, over 2,600 deaths occur annually from unsafe abortions in Kenya, while 21,000 more women are hospitalized annually due to complications arising from incomplete abortions whether spontaneous or induced.

Not everyone knows someone who has procured an abortion, maybe they are the first in their circle. Regardless,  safe abortion is essential and should be universally accessible. 

People have different stands on abortion, some are pro-life while others are pro-choice. Most often people tend to judge, discriminate and stigmatize women/girls who have procured an abortion without caring to know the circumstances that may have pushed them to procure an abortion or the guilt they carry with them. 

We can do better as a community. Let us all advocate for safe abortion!

Contributed by Christine Sharon Amondi, Jotham Odundo and Peterrock Muriuki