Unconscionable: Health workers’ right to refuse abortions vs women’s right to choose

South Africa‘s Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act legalises voluntary abortion at different stages of pregnancy. Although viewed as a generally liberal law, the Act has not effectively enabled broad and consistent access for women seeking to terminate their pregnancies.

One of the reasons has been some health providers’ and facilities’ refusal to treat women who need abortion care.

Within South African law, specifically the termination of pregnancy Act, no health care provider — irrespective of the category — is ethically allowed to refuse to provide emergency treatment and care.

On Tuesday, the health and human rights non-profit the International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC) and partners released a report, titled “Unconscionable”. The research argues that there is a growing trend globally, including in South Africa, of health care providers who are refusing to deliver abortion and other sexual and reproductive health care. This phenomenon violates the ethical principle of “do no harm,” the coalition argues.

 

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