Every year, worldwide, about 42 million women with unintended pregnancies choose abortion. Nearly half of these procedures, 20 million, are unsafe while 68,000 women die of unsafe abortions annually, making it one of the leading causes of maternal mortality (13%).
The Catholic Church opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy a zygote or fetus since it holds that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception. Having been brought up by a very staunch religious and conservative family, it was an offense for me to talk about abortion with anyone.
It was one of the Fridays in August 2017, when I was invited with two of my midwife colleagues to one of the most famous days and boarding mixed secondary schools around Kampala to carry out pregnancy check-ups on all the girls in the school. After various health talks to the students, we began on our major activity of pregnancy check-ups. During the activity, we got 3 pregnant students with the first one aged 15years old in form 2 at 26 weeks of pregnancy, the second one was 17years old in form 5 at 20 weeks of pregnancy and the third one was 19years old in form 5 at 16 weeks of pregnancy.
Each one of us was allocated one student for the one-on-one counseling. I got the 19year old who was 16 weeks pregnant. We interacted and I got a chance to know her more. She was an orphan staying with the grandmother who was selling traditional Ugandan fermented beverages made from ripe bananas (Tonto) in Kampala suburbs. This girl used to assist the grandmother during her works.
This is where one of her grandmother’s customers befriended her promising to give her everything and care for her studies. Unfortunately, she was then lured into a sexual encounter with this man who she believes was like 40 years. When she realized she had missed her periods, she then told the old man who disappeared. She was now trying to look around where she would get help to terminate the pregnancy.
Throughout our discussions I insisted that she would carry on with the pregnancy until term then come back to school after delivery, leaving the baby with a trusted relative. Seeming to have bought the idea, she had nothing more to say but abide.
One early Monday morning, I received a call from the school administrator that the girl had passed on trying to terminate the pregnancy. With goosebumps all over my skin, I regretted why I was not able to help make this girl for a safer abortion. This is when there were already ongoing campaigns by associations like the National Midwives Association of Uganda and Association of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Uganda advocating for safer abortions. I quickly became a member.
I believe that by making this history and these testimonies available to a wider audience of youth intermediaries, policymakers, civil society organizations serving young people and young people themselves, they will gain greater insight into the situation of unsafe abortion and will feel enabled to improve their strategies in addressing this issue, both in Uganda and elsewhere.
I, therefore, recommend the legalization of safer abortions as we are losing young girls and women in attempts to carry out unsafe abortions.
The author Namakula Ritah RM is BSc trained midwife working with Mulago Specialised Women and Neonatal Hospital