Day 1. HOW TO: deal with an unwanted pregnancy

How can you practically empower yourself, or the women and children you know, during this year’s 16 days of Activism? The Mail & Guardian‘s “How To” guide will tackle a different area each day, including suing for maintenance, applying for a social grant and getting an interdict against an abusive partner.

Unwanted pregnancy as a result of rape is a sad reality in a country with sexual violence rates as high as ours. But what are your options if faced with this hard decision? Today’s “How to” looks at the facts around adoption and abortion:

Option one: abortion

  • Up to 12 weeks:
  • The 1996 Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act has meant that abortion has been legal in this country since 1997.
    It was legal before, in a limited number of scenarios, but the current law states that a woman of any age has the right to request an abortion up until the 12th week of pregnancy—for any reason. The current legislation means that fewer women are forced into traumatic and sometimes fatal ‘back street” abortions.

  • Up to 20 weeks:
  • An abortion can legally be requested up until the 20th week of the pregnancy if:
    • the pregnancy is a result of rape;
    • the pregnancy is result of incest;
    • the woman is at physical or psychological risk from the pregnancy; or
    • the fetus is at risk of severe physical or mental abnormalities


  • Further than 20 weeks?
  • Any further along, and abortion becomes a medical decision where it will only be considered if the pregnancy risks the life of the woman.
As it currently stands, no woman considering an abortion is obliged to consult with the father of the child, although health workers are required to suggest consultation where it is reasonable.

Although no health worker can be forced to perform abortions, health workers are obliged by law to provide information about women’s rights, and refer them to alternative facilities where necessary.

Keep in mind that going through with an abortion can be incredibly traumatic and a decision that must be thought though properly. Pro-life organisations argue that the dangers of abortion are often underplayed. Read more here.


All state hospitals offer abortions and information, as do organisations such as Marie Stopes.

Abortions must be performed by doctors, although specially trained nurses are also allowed to perform abortions up to the 12th week.

Some organisations also offer pre- and post-abortion counselling, although no facility is required to provide it.

Helpful organisations:


Option 2: Adoption

There are other options for dealing with an unwanted pregnancy besides abortion.

As it currently stands, a mother who wishes to put their child up for adoption must have the consent of the natural father of the child if his name appears on the birth certificate.

A woman may make the decision alone if she can prove that:

  • the father has deserted his responsibilities;
  • the pregnancy resulted from rape; or
  • the woman can prove that the relationship was abusive.

There are a number of adoption options available. LifeLine (0861-322-322) can offer advice as to the closest adoption centres and places of safety, and refer you to the many non-profit organisations that will offer pre- and post-adoption counselling to mothers.

It is important that any woman willing to give a child up for adoption follows the correct legal routes (again, LifeLine will provide information). This is the only way to ensure the future safety and well-being of the child. It is illegal to come to private arrangements with prospective adoptive parents, and it is illegal for any money to be ‘paid” to a mother for a child.

  • Keep a look out for tomorrow’s HOW TO: what to do if you suspect a child you know is being abused.

  • View more on our special report on 16 days of activism here.

  • Read the daily “HOW TO” guides so far here
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