“I’m a trained abortion services provider and I oversee the day-to-day running of abortion services at our facility. I’m also an activist for safe abortions. I once treated a lady who tried to abort a pregnancy by drinking bleach, she became sick and ended up in hospital. She was seen by someone else at the hospital and was ready to be discharged. I happened to be responsible for acute gynaecological emergencies on the day she was meant to leave. I read her notes and immediately knew she had been trying to abort even though she hadn’t disclosed it.

I took her for a gynaecological scan. I had a chat with her. She told me she drank the bleach because she’d been told it would help terminate the pregnancy. Luckily she was talking to me – the person responsible for abortions in the hospital – and I admitted her. She got her abortion that day.

Had we not met she would probably have gone to an illegal abortion provider. And we don’t know how that might have turned out for her. I see every abortion I do as a life saved from an illegal abortion. 

I mostly perform second-trimester abortions and complicated cases, including women who got backstreet abortions that went wrong. My department is split into four units. As the doctor responsible for abortion services I see all the patients who are admitted to the department.

READ MORE: Babies are getting dumped in SA at an alarming rate - why safe abortions are more important now than ever before

Whenever we get a patient I see her to ensure the correct information has been given, the right drugs and doses have been prescribed, the woman knows what to expect during her stay and how to plan for future pregnancies.

Dr Melusi Dhlamini

At any given time each unit has a woman admitted for an abortion, so I see about five patients a week.

The reaction after an abortion varies, but a feeling of relief is the most common. Most of the women are from cultures that frown upon abortions The women themselves may very well hold the same views. They require extensive counselling before the procedure to accept  there’s nothing wrong with getting an abortion. That it’s something necessary. 

I sometimes come back after I’ve done my other work to see and counsel women before the medical part of the procedure starts. I sometimes end up leaving work late, which I honestly don’t mind but then my energy levels take a hit. 

The law allows for conscientious objection (doctors can opt out of treating women requesting abortion services) but I believe a career in women’s health chose me. I’d initially wanted to specialize in internal medicine with the intention of being an ICU specialist.

But when I started practising in the department I fell in love with the field.

I’ve ended up being the only person the department calls when someone’s admitted for an abortion.

I try to use every moment I can to educate people on abortions and make them realise it’s not just a health service – which a woman has a right to – but it is also a human right enshrined in our constitution.

If anyone thinks what I do is wrong, that has nothing to do with me because I know it is not wrong. 

A lot of negative statements are hurled my way by colleagues, both medical and support staff. They’re usually disguised as banter by people I get along with in the workplace. I end up just brushing it off with a laugh.

READ MORE: "It’s saving lives" – nurses who perform abortions share their story

Most of the time these cases go unreported because I can never tell when the intention is to insult. I also don’t let it get to me because I’m a doctor providing a health service. It’s my job.

Medicine isn’t easy to study nor is it to practise. The unfortunate and fortunate part of the job is that we work with people. A mistake can easily mean death.

Good outcomes leave you beaming with pride endlessly. A passion for people is a must-have before even considering the career."

We took to our social media pages to find out from women who’ve had abortions about their experiences.

Khanya*

“Yes, I’ve had an abortion it was a few weeks, maybe six weeks, ago.

I went to a private doctor and he gave me a few days to think about it after my first consultation. I went back with my mind still made up.

I was then given medication and was instructed on how to take it. The doctors were in touch throughout the whole process and would call me every morning to check up on me and to check if I’m not bleeding heavily. They made a somewhat difficult experience bearable.

I have not dealt with my emotions, the stigma around abortion doesn't allow us to express our feelings after the procedure.

But I have made peace with it and I’m not as guilt-stricken as I was before, I was not ready [for a baby] but I’ve learnt to insist on using a condom.”

Zitha*

“I have two children and two months ago I had an abortion.

I'm a single parent and I wasn’t ready to have a third child. It was the worst I’ve ever felt and the guilt I have to live with every day – the pain which I can feel every day – it keeps playing all over in my head every day.”

READ MORE: "I don't regret my abortion and it's not your place to make me feel like I should"

Jessica*

“I have had two abortions. The first was at home and the other was via a backstreet abortion service. I was eight weeks pregnant and my cousin suggested I drink a mixture of methylated spirits, Stametta and vinegar.

I was 18 and I was sure I didn't want a child, and the mixture worked. The pain I had to endure was like death but two days later it was aborted. I recently had the second one. I bought pills from a guy and I bled out, I was a couple of weeks pregnant and I didn't even need the hospital.”

Mary*

“On 29 May 2017 I had an abortion at a government hospital. I was given a pill to take home and drink the next morning.  I did as instructed and within two hours I started bleeding. Unfortunately, I had to travel from KZN to JHB for a meeting that same day.

The flow was a bit too much, but it was expected. I was also told to go back to the hospital after a week for a check-up, but I didn't go due to travelling.

Last October I discovered that I’m pregnant again and went to another government hospital. It [the abortion] was done on 15 November. I got cleaned that same day and everything went back to normal.

Lately I’ve been having a heavy flow during my period. I've seen doctors and one told me I might have some difficulties having babies again. I've booked another appointment with a gynecologist and will soon find out what's the real problem.” 

*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of the individuals.

 Do you have an inspiring story you would like to share? Simply drop us an e-mail at mystory@drum.co.za