Arrested for selling abortion pills illegally in South Africa

The disconnect between the public health system’s abortion services and poor women needing abortions in South Africa seems to be a serious and ongoing one. The recent story reported below is not an uncommon one for South Africa. There have been a number of newspaper articles about people being caught selling abortion pills illegally and arrested. A feature in 2011 on the subject in Johannesburg, for example, found that it was often poor women from Mozambique who were selling hair plaiting services on the street who were also selling abortion pills for R 200 each. A video by the author of this feature states that misoprostol was also available in the pharmacy for R 300 for a box, while a doctor asked for R 600. One woman seller who was interviewed explained that she found herself pregnant and bought the pills from a friend who plaited hair; the friend convinced her to start doing the same herself, and she did because she needed the income.A recently reported story from North-West Province began when a 27-year-old woman was admitted to Brits District Hospital with suspicion of illegal abortion after she delivered a stillborn fetus weighing 660g. She admitted to the nurse, who was taking her history, that she had bought some tablets for R1500 to induce labour and later also said where she had got them.The Acting Hospital CEO requested that two staff members go to purchase medication from the alleged source of the pills, saying they needed the tablets for an abortion. They were sold five misoprostol tablets and one pill that was not identified. This was reported to the police, who arrested five people and charged them with contravention of the Medicine Act 101 of 1965, for the “unlicensed distribution of medicine and related products”.In spite of local and national efforts to raise awareness about the lack of safety of illegal abortion and promotion safe services, the North-West Department of Health reported seeing a sharp increase in women with vaginal bleeding and miscarriages attending for care. They say a total of 927 such cases have been reported between April 2015 and March 2016.”In the North-West Province, we have 15 Health institutions comprising of (Hospitals, Community Health Centres and clinics) that are designated for Choice of Termination of Pregnancy. These health facilities offer safe, clean and reliable services. By utilising these facilities, you will be saving yourself from possible harm and most probably from unnecessary fatalities,” said NW DoH Medical Executive Councillor Magome Masike.SOURCE/PHOTO: JOZI City, by Tebogo Mahlaela, 29 October 2011SOURCE: Speech by MEC Magome Masike, 23 May 2016