Talking about abortion is a complex subject. Before working at SOSFEC I had a hostile opinion about abortion and thought it was something I shouldn’t speak about. I had heard lots of myths and rumours – for example, that women who had abortions would be sterile afterwards, or that they risked getting cancer. In my community abortion is stigmatised because it challenges social, cultural and religious norms and values.
When I came to SOSFEC I learned that abortion is a right.
I knew that human lives were being lost as a result of unsafe abortions. I learned that these unsafe abortions contribute on a large scale to the maternal mortality rate. The stigma around abortion should be banished as it causes obstacles for everyone to receive safe, affordable and quality abortion care. Learning that there was a safer method of abortion that doesn’t come with health risks started to change my views.
Abortion has been partially decriminalised in the DRC.
In 2018, the Maputo Protocol was published in our country’s legal gazette. This authorised the partial decriminalisation of abortion in the DRC under certain conditions, notably in cases of rape, incest and sexual assault, and when the pregnancy endangers the mental and physical health of the pregnant woman or fetus. This judicial recognition of the right to safe abortion also helped to dispel my fears and concerns.
I had witnessed the suffering of women who were raped and did not want to keep their pregnancies, and I wanted to become more involved in working towards a solution. I was interested in the advocacy carried out by organisations working in sexual and reproductive health to legalise abortion.
We can offer practical support and advice to women seeking safe abortion.
Before SOSFEC started receiving funds from SAAF to work on reducing unsafe abortions, we just gave general information about reproductive health, but did not offer practical support. This meant that women seeking safe abortions still faced the problem of where to find pills, how many to take, and so on. They were not always successful in finding safe ways to end their pregnancies.
With SAAF funding our organisation was able to set up three clinics and increase access to abortion services. Since 2014 we have provided sexual and reproductive health services to almost 70,000 people. We can even offer services to people free of charge.
I’m delighted to be able to say that our clients are satisfied with the care they receive. We have never had to register a complication as a result of using Misoprostol. Working with clients at SOSFEC has shown me, for certain, that Misoprostol saves lives.
By Clarisse Balenge, SOS Femme Enfant en Catastrophe (SOSFEC)
SOSFEC has been a SAAF grantee partner since 2014. They work in South Kivu in the Democratic Republic of Congo.