The young woman left my consulting room after protracted counselling, with a completed J88 (a medical report of assault), a prescription for anxiolytics and pain medication, and a referral to a therapist. She was six weeks pregnant, but would not be for long. Her husband had inserted misoprostol tablets in her vagina, without her knowledge or consent. She was already in the throes of uterine cramps.
The smell of blood permeated the ward I walked into that morning. Twelve beds with twelve women, who would be discharged that day and replaced by twelve more. And again. And again. Some women did not meet my eyes. Some looked angry. Some resolute. But the teenagers implored me with their big doe-eyes, waiting for me to pull back their sheets and discover the expelled products between their legs.
The night staff regularly refused to help the patients admitted for pregnancy termination. “It’s your mess. You clean it.” Many women would lie helplessly at night, groaning in unrelieved pain, with no assistance from the nurses sworn to care for them.
I was just an intern. I did my best. But maybe I should have done more.
An unidentified woman stumbled into the labour ward. Her long skirt was sticky with blood. She was diaphoretic, and breathing fast. She was weak with low blood pressure. She would not – could not? – speak.
“I think… I feel… bone shards?” the registrar reported on the vaginal examination.
An informal abortion gone awry. We will never know who did it, and the woman will never find justice. Abortion deaths were common in the days before legalisation. Our elders in medicine remember them well. These days, we are not meant to see women die from septic abortions. But that night, we did.
Today is the Global Day for Safe and Legal abortions. I feel like this protestor: I can’t believe we still have to protest this shit. How hard is it to leave women’s bodies alone? How hard is it to back off, and respect our autonomy?
I am tired. Tired of hearing how women must run from pillar to post to find a facility that will help them, because so many healthcare workers choose to “conscientiously” object. Conscientious my foot.
And I think that instead of suggesting a list of things readers can do, I’ll name just one:
Talk about it.
Even just with your closest friends. If you can, talk to your colleagues. To family. Say the word out loud: abortion. Break the silence. You don’t have to have had an abortion to believe in choice and safety. Your voice is just as loud.
I believe in the bodily autonomy, safety, and right to choose of all womxn.
I believe that legal abortions are integral to the health of communities.
Statistically, abortion is an everyday part of life. The sooner we start treating it that way, the better.