Back Alley Abotions in Zambia – Analysis

Zambia is a landlocked country located in the southern part of Africa. Since its independence, Zambia has remained peaceful. Zambia despite its liberal education has remained a Christian nation. In government schools, students are taught about every religion including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, students are also taught Christianity in a factual unemotional non- evangelistic way. The interesting thing is religious education is not compulsory, considering the fact that Christianity is an adopted state religion.

Throughout my time in high school, I would hear of rumors of back-alley abortions, girls would fall pregnant and out of fear of the law and condemnation they would concoct some medication to abort the unborn baby. Girls would use things like coat hangers, boiled Coca-Cola or visit a traditional doctor who would give them a mixture of herbs to abort. Some girls were lucky, others nearly died. One such story sticks in my mind about a girl who fell pregnant after her boyfriend raped her, she was so concerned about legal ramification and family embarrassment she had a back alley abortion, which nearly killed her. Back alley abortions still remain a major problem nationwide, it accounts for half of gynecological visits, this is because the surgeries are done in unsanitary environments by untrained people.

Back alley abortions statics from the ministry of health

  • “Incomplete abortions among women younger than 20 were estimated at 23 percent;

  • 25 percent of maternal deaths due to induced abortions were in girls younger than 18;

  • 50 percent of acute gynecological admissions were the result of abortion complications, a big proportion being from unsafe abortion;

  • In 1993, over 16,000 maternal hospital admissions nationally were due to abortions performed in the communities by non–professionals;

  • Unsafe abortions account for 30 percent of all maternal mortality;

  • Insufficient knowledge about women’s rights specifically those related to sexual and reproductive health;

  • Out of stock of reproductive products, such as family planning pills and condoms; and,

  • There are often long distances to health care centers and a lack of youth-friendly services and a shortage of human        resources.”-

When you see these figures and the reasons why most visits to the gynecology are back alley abortions related, you would be forgiven to think that abortion is illegal in Zambia.To my surprise, it is not illegal, article 26 of 1972 and has not been illegal since 1972 which makes it possible for women to seek abortion based on health and social economic grounds. When the woman’s life is at risk, the constitution even gives the concession to terminate a pregnancy and also allows for termination when a girl has been raped. When you consider just how liberal abortion laws are in Zambia in comparison with other African countries, why are so many women resorting to back-alley abortions?

Culture plays a very big part in the reason why. I think Zambia is proof that culture is what determines politics. Zambia is very much a Christian nation with a very religious culture. Christians philosophy is pro-life and believes that life begins at conception, this could explain why most Zambians believe that women should not have the rights to terminate pregnancies. Most of the girls/women that have abortions have a greater fear of cultural shame and the stigma that comes with having an abortion rather than any legal ramifications. Whether culture will change I don’t know, the biggest criticism I have of our attitude towards this issue is, we do not have grace. The Zambian culture has not provided an alternative so that women do not have to put there lives at risk in order to have an abortion.  Furthermore, most people do not have access to good medical care and women that are of high social economic status make use of the law.

Moving forward, finding a balance between the stigma and grace is very important, regardless of where you stand on this issue. 30% mortality due to unsafe abortion is also morally unacceptable just like abortion itself.

I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue, Should Zambia move to criminalize abortions? like they are currently trying to do, if yes why?

For more on the detailed analysis of the laws surrounding abortions -