KENYA: It was 9:53pm when the phone rang. A female voice clearly in distress asked if I was a gynaecologist. When I said yes, she asked if it was possible to reverse the effects of an abortion medicine she had taken.
My reflex answer was: “I don’t think so.” But I asked her what medication she had taken and where she got it from.
I then told her she would be best advised to visit the same clinic and explain her change of mind.
This was the fifth such phone call I had received in slightly over one month. In three of the other calls, the callers said they had walked into a chemist without a prescription and bought the drug like they would buy the “morning-after- pill”.
Article 26 (4) of the Constitution states: “Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is a need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”
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In this country, it is a crime for a woman to attempt to procure abortion. However, as we have seen, the law does not deter women from sourcing abortifacient drugs. Unsafe abortion is at the very heart of tackling maternal mortality globally, and an essential obstacle to progress in sexual and reproductive medicine.
The last updated World Health Organisation statistics of 2008 estimate that 21.6 million women undergo an unsafe abortion each year. Majority of these abortions are in low- and middle-income countries. Across the world, about 47,000 women die each year from unsafe abortion - that is 13 per cent of global maternal deaths.
Recent research suggests that early in a pregnancy, there are two drugs women can safely use to miscarry at home. But, if the medical risk of do-it-yourself abortion is relatively small, the legal risk still looms large.
Abortion can cause a number of emotional responses, including sadness, guilt, rage, shame and regret. Some women feel conflicted when there are no guilt feelings following an abortion.