I am sure you have heard arguments and presentations from many angles – religious, mental, health and rights about the changes on the table for the bill.

I believe this bill and its amendments were initiated with the view of helping women and with that in mind I am standing before you today as a social worker, a mother but mostly as a woman on behalf of the very people this bill seeks to serve.

The new amendment asks for three specific things that all boil down to provide an easier and quicker way for women to obtain an abortion.

My question is whether this amendment was requested from the women clients themselves and/or the nurses in the profession, which will be required to perform accordingly and if not them, what was the motivation behind it?

My concern is that the majority of women who seek post abortion counseling from us are mostly suffering because they feel their abortions were done too easy and too quickly leaving them with little time to think and no choice.

It is a psychologically proven fact that any person facing an unexpected event or crisis situation will go through certain emotional stages and cannot make realistic decisions during the first phases. As social worker we were trained to keep any person in a crisis situation from making any quick or rushed decision as they are not able to think clearly and need time to work through the stages of crisis until they are ready to face the facts and take responsibility.

A considerable high number of women needing post abortion counseling, testified that the easy access to have an abortion in a time of crisis left them afterwards with regret, guilt and anger. I heard many who personally said to me: "I was not in control and felt I had no choice" So often it is the husband or the boyfriend or the normal first stage of a crisis that emotionally force them to remove the "so to say problem" as quick as possible. We see more and more women who had abortions 3 or 5 years ago and the reality of their decision made in a crisis point in their lives haunts them. We are also seeing more women who had had an abortion but during a subsequent pregnancy are now questioning that past decision.

I like the name of this bill, the CHOICE of termination of pregnancy – but do we really give women that choice? There are so many women feeling they were pressurized into the decision without knowledge of the procedure let alone the possible practical support out there or even prepare them on the possible emotional, physical or spiritual after-affects. Knowledge empower women and we have seen that those who had real informed counseling beforehand does not suffer the same level of hurt and regret than those who did not.

Our center alone is seeing on average 8 women per month for post abortion counseling. We have found that those who came for counseling before their abortions handles the emotional impact afterwards far better than those who feel that they didn’t have enough space to think clearly about all their options and the after effects.

My concern then about all the new amendments is that it will provide means to make abortions easier available and we will not serve the best interest of women in crisis situations of an unintended pregnancy. The very same women that this law needs to serve will actually cause more hurt to a considerable number of women.

Teenagers are also a concern as we see more and more teenagers being sexually active and using abortion as a contraceptive. Making it so easy is not teaching our children anything or helping to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

"Karen" not her real name, was a teenager, frightened and so sad when she came to our doors. Her fears that her father would kill her and the school would reject her turned around when she accepted our support to talk it over with her dad and with the school. The restoration in this family and school’s acceptance and support to this girl opened the door for us to speak to many more children about the effects of being sexual active, the dangers of HIV/AIDS, teenage pregnancy and abortion. Counseling brought knowledge which led to empowerment, responsibility and the best option of all: prevention.

Most women do not see abortion as their first choice but feel it is the ONLY choice – thus they didn’t have a choice. Through informed counseling women will have more time to consider options and can make decisions without pressure that will help her to take the responsibilities thereof.

I have heard many women said to me personally in interviews: if only I knew about you before I had my abortion……. Not necessary that they wouldn’t have the abortion but that they could make the decision for themselves and from a free will to choose. Time does not allow sharing the many heartache stories of rape and abuse and HIV status as the situations that drove women to have abortions against their own free will.

Germany has made counseling a compulsory part of their law and no abortion is done there unless a woman can prove that she was counseled beforehand by one of the accepted counseling facilities.

France allows in their abortion laws for a week waiting time from when the woman requested an abortion to the time that the actual abortion takes place.

As an organization we network with similar care giving centers across the world and centers in these two countries have less post abortion counseling sessions than countries like the UK or Romania where no counseling is required.

At pregnancy centers across SA, we try to facilitate a free will decision with all the information on hand. We are not fighting this bill or fight to save babies lives but we are striving to serve women’s fundamental rights of a free will and informed choice. We are here today to plead with you to hear our concern for the women we come to us for counseling because they are hurting.

Ladies and gentlemen, counseling to make a real informed choice is the first step if you really want to serve women through this Choice of Termination of Pregnancy bill. The amendments on the table do not count for understanding the women we actually want to help.

Amendments that will serve women would rather be a 24hour counseling service at these medical facilities for women in crisis and even nurses and doctors who may suffer because of their work. Providing facilities where women can receive in depth counseling and time to think will so empower them to make informed choices and enable them to take control of the emotional, spiritual and psychological feelings that may come afterwards.

The more than 70 Pregnancy care centers in SA are on ground level serving women. We have seen many women bringing their families together because of time to think and reason, we have counseled men who raped their women and we have seen them changed and relationships restored. We saw families re-united because of counseling, mothers healed emotionally and equipped to be stronger and motivated to teach their daughters better lifestyles.

I represent SA Cares for Life, which is part of a bigger network of pregnancy care centers, and my presentation reflects the findings of care centers in South Africa and even the world. In South Africa more than 3000 women receive counseling and support from pregnancy care centers each month. We provide a very necessary counseling service to women considering abortion as well as in depth counseling for women suffering from post abortion stress. We offer housing to at least 30 pregnant women per month and network with organizations for adoptions. I speak out of experience in practice to have witnessed both sides of the challenges that arise from decisions made for- or against abortion. We have seen the results and know that we have an answer. Abortion can hurt women very deeply leaving them wounded and silently crying. Women are the anchor of the family and of our nation. Lets stand together to make our women stronger and empower them to make informed decisions that will protect them form being wounded.

To really serve the women of South Africa in this debate and to empower them through this bill, I want to draw your attention to the two aspects that I believe would make all the difference. I am pleading with you to:

  1. Please make compulsory counseling part of the amendments and
  2. Please set a time frame of at least a week for this counseling before abortions are done.

In closing my last comment is that it would be a breakthrough for women if Government and NGO’s and FBO’s could take hands in this area and offer services to serve the best interest of women in South Africa.

Thank you

Riekie van der Berg

Managing Director: SA cares for Life 082 972 1889