In 1997, South Africa implemented the progressive Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (CTOPA), which allows TOP on request till the 12th week, and under certain conditions till the 20th week. The enactment of CTOPA was a crucial advance for women’s health and represented the recognition of reproductive rights.
Despite the existence of this law, accessing safe TOP services remains a struggle for many South African women. Barriers include severe stigma, conscientious objection by health-care providers, lack of information on the CTOPA, and poor infrastructure and availability of TOP services. The stigma around abortion limits women’s and girls’ ability to access information or speak openly about the issue. As a result, many women and young girls are unaware of their legally-safeguarded rights, which, in turn, pushes them into the hands of illegal and unsafe abortion services. This in turn, leads to high maternal mortality and morbidity in the country.
With a growing number of partners committed to improving women’s access to safe abortion and women willing to come forward with their stories, GHS saw an opportunity in South Africa to unite and mobilize partners to tackle deep-rooted abortion stigma so that:
- More women who seek abortions go to safe, registered providers – and know their rights
- More providers are willing to give women the services they choose
- More public demand supports women-centric policy changes
GHS launched #MyBodyMyChoice – a first-of-its-kind campaign – to mainstream dialogue around abortion and advocate for abortion rights. The campaign has been able to mobilize experts, influencers and the public to demand an end to stigma and call for reforms. Campaign partners include Amnesty International South Africa, the South African Human Right Commission, Gender Links, Health-e News, Ibis Reproductive Health, Ipas, Marie Stopes SA, Médecins Sans Frontières, Nalane for Reproductive Justice, SECTION27, Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition, Sonke Gender Justice, and the Treatment Action Campaign.
Phase I of the campaign was launched in September 2018. Through this campaign, GHS was been able to build widespread public support for this issue. The campaign’s multimedia content and strategic use of champion voices helped raise the profile of key barriers to abortion access, challenge stigma and call for greater acceptance around women’s right to safe abortion. Some of the key activities and results included:
- Developing creative content, including a toolkit and documentary in partnership with Health-e, which was broadcasted on South Africa’ major network eNCA. The episode was viewed by 1.4 million people, with a repeat telecast on ETV.
- Activating the media, generating a total of 50 radio, TV and print media outputs. These included a documentary drama series and several talks show with community radio stations.
- Driving conversation on social media, reaching more than 36 million people.
- Organizing several events on September 28, the International Day of Safe Abortion including a youth panel discussion, a play and South Africa’s first-ever public march on abortion and reproductive justice, which mobilized 600 people to march down the streets of Johannesburg.
The second phase of the campaign was launched in May 2019.