Mozambique's legislature is expected to pass a bill to legalize abortions in March in an effort to reduce the country's high rate of unsafe backroom abortions.
After undergoing a back-room abortion as a 15-year-old, Isabel considers herself among the lucky ones. Ten years later, she has a healthy five-year-old son, while several of her friends will forever be unable to have children. Women in her neighborhood have lost their lives.
"I knew that something could happen to me," Isabel recalls, sitting on a plastic chair outside her home, "but I risked it."
In Mozambique, where abortion remains illegal under any circumstances, the government has come to regard the ravages of clandestine abortions as a major public health problem. According to the Ministry of Health, they are responsible for more than half of visits to obstetric and gynecological services nationwide, and more than 5,000 maternal deaths each year. The true number is probably much higher, since many women die without reaching a hospital or at a stage when they are not visibly pregnant.
“Around the world, clandestine abortion is a leading cause of maternal death, and one of the hardest to get good data on,” says Dr. Diederike Geelhoed, a physician with the International Centre for Reproductive Health (ICRH). “ The [World Health Organization] estimates that more than 5 million clandestine abortions occur annually throughout Africa, while only 100,000 abortions that take place in a safe, legal setting.
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