The world displayed spectacular progress in terms of material progress – that is if one compares humanity’s situation now to then. The economy of many countries are seen to be gradually improving over the years. More children are being educated, many are learning to be literate. The world’s healthcare system obviously improved as the life expectancy of humans have significantly increased compared to human’s life expectancy in the 17th century. Despite the progress in other countries, Africa seems to be falling behind. Africa has been chosen as the focus of this expository essay on poverty and abortion because it best represents the situation which the world should be helping alleviate.
Poverty Rate in Africa
Africa has been making progress on eradicating extreme poverty on their region with the help of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. As of 2019, there are more Africans that are managing to escape extreme poverty than those falling into poverty (K. Hamel et al., 2019). Because of this progress, there are now only one in three Africans who live below the global poverty line of US $1.90. This may seem significant, but it translates to about 422 million Africans who are still living below the international poverty line.
27 of the world’s most impoverished countries are found in Africa and make up of 70% of the world’s poorest people. In Africa, neither freedom nor resources are in abundance. This condition therefore makes individual acts such as receiving proper healthcare and education suffer due to lack of accessibility thus resulting to limited choices, to the point that freedom has become a distant illusion. Besides financial instability, most of Africa is plagued by the symptomatic suffering stemming from continuous civil and political strife, overwhelming geographic and agricultural disadvantage, and societal division. It cannot be posited, however, that Africa is a continent of divisiveness.
Even if projections show that Africa is making progress on escaping extreme poverty – with an estimated 367 Africans a day managing to live above the poverty line – the fact that most Africans are still living in poverty to extreme poverty should not be ignored. 422 million Africans suffering from poverty is not a small number. Those people are being deprived of basic human necessities like proper food and water, which they need to survive.
The problem of lowering the extreme poverty rate in Africa goes hand in hand with trying to control the increase in their population. Just like other countries, Africa has extremely overcrowded living areas which increase the risk of getting diseases due to the poor living conditions. Living in extreme poverty leaves millions of families unable to provide proper shelter, food, clothing, and healthcare for all members of the family. Access to comfortable living conditions are so far out of most African’s reach.
And because most Africans are living in poverty, or is trying their best to get out of it, they do not have money to spare for luxurious things. Services that most people consider normal like receiving proper healthcare assistance is out of the question. The constantly increasing population in Africa and lack of access to proper sex education and healthcare leaves African mothers with little to no choice at all. Some African mothers seek to abort their pregnancy because of poverty. However, most of them resort to unsafe abortion because they do not have the means to access abortion in certified clinics.
Unsafe Abortion Procedures
Evidently, abortion is a social issue experienced worldwide, but what makes it of great notice – and even greater disconcertment – in Africa is the sheer lack of resources and clear unity to consolidate a unified front on the matter of abortion. Childbearing and rearing requires an exhaustion of many various resources: health, time, effort, food and water provisions, and so on. The absence of such resources in Africa signifies great difficulty to both the mother and the child in the long run. Most of all, the greatest resource being expended is freedom.
Carrying a human being in such a delicate stage of life, the mother is extremely restricted. Being the parent of the child, on her shoulders rests the responsibility to ensure its safety and protection over her own life and convenience. Her world now revolves around her child - her freedom is now delegated to it. And in most cases for African mothers, they lack said resources needed to raise a child properly and so they are not ready to raise a life just yet.
But given the current general socioeconomic situation in most parts of Africa, it seems that there can never be a time when it is appropriate to raise a child. A single glance at the statistics alone is sufficient to provide a grim account of the average African life. One out of four African citizens is malnourished; food and water are scarce due to a mix of geographical and political reasons. There is economic instability, civil strife, political turmoil, constant war and violence - life in Africa is harsh, putting it mildly.
To raise a child in an environment like that proves to be harsher. Yet, despite the glaring problems that continues to plague the continent, population growth has never stifled. The average African mother gives birth to about five children in a lifetime. The amount of resources it takes to raise even a single child alone for the African mother is extremely taxing. Five times that, this leads to a very disadvantageous situation both for the African mother and her family.
Leading the whole family to be even more impoverished is the main reason why African mothers seek to have an abortion. According to the World Health Organization, Africa has the highest death rate due to unsafe abortions because three out of four – or 5.5 million – Africans resort to unsafe abortions due to lack of resources. A third of unsafe abortions were conducted by untrained people using dangerous invasive methods. Because of these unsafe abortions, 1.7 million African women are hospitalized each year and about 26,000 of them die.
Prohibiting abortion altogether or even restricting African women’s freedom to access abortion at the time of their choosing leads to them being forced to spend the money that they don’t have because they will need to be hospitalized when something goes wrong with the abortion procedure. As of writing, there are 7 countries in the continent of Africa who still prohibit abortion altogether. The remaining 47 countries in Africa permit abortion but under a set of circumstances.
Partly allowing accessible abortion for African women does not help much with decreasing the number of African women choosing to have a safe abortion over the unsafe method. As most countries in Africa have certain limits on allowing abortion, this translates to women not being approved of having one due to certain circumstances. Some countries in Africa only permit a woman to have abortion to save a woman’s life, preserve her health, if there is fetal impairment, or on the grounds of incest or rape. African women are disallowed to have an abortion if they do not fit under the circumstances states under their country’s laws.
On Making Abortion Accessible
Abortion in most Asian and North American countries is accessible. If those women’s freedom to choose on having an abortion is compared to that of African women’s, the gap is quite wide. As mentioned earlier, there are restrictions and some prohibit abortion altogether in Africa. Thereby leading most African women to choose having an unsafe abortion just to terminate the pregnancy. This alternative is not only dangerous but would cost as much – or even more – as having a safe abortion.
With this, it is only right to legalize abortion in order to help women in Africa. There is absolutely no need for them to suffer the cruelty of having to raise another child knowing that their child will know of the harsh environment they are forced to grow up in. There should be a choice for African women to take a safer method of abortion rather than forcing themselves to ingest toxic fluids or insert sharp objects into their cervix just to try to end their pregnancy.
Unsafe abortion in Africa can truly be preventable only if proper healthcare and abortion clinics are made accessible. Guttmacher Institute has found in one of their studies that the countries who prohibit abortion or restrict access to abortion have higher rates in unintended pregnancy and abortion compared to countries where abortion is legal. This goes to show that Africa’s problem in poverty and population may be alleviated if abortion is made legal because their population rate will stop increasing a lot and simultaneously prevent African women and their families plunging further into poverty because of an unintended pregnancy,
The record of having more than 5.5 million African women being forced to endure unsafe abortion should change. Many countries have shown the positive effects of legalizing abortion and having African countries legalize it too would pose more good than harm. After all, legalizing it would mean that significantly less women would have to undergo such dangerous situations. A woman’s life and choice should be prioritized in these circumstances, especially in a country who is trying their best to recover from extreme poverty.
To write about the subject of Africa and abortion alone requires volumes of books and cannot be all covered in a single essay alone. Rather it serves as a reminder of the difficulty to access safe abortion procedures in the face of poverty. This discussion is also a contribution to the on-going debate on abortion. No particular side is taken in this essay as all sides of the issue of abortion is acknowledged pro-life advocates may take this as a reminder to re-evaluate their policies while pro-choice proponents might take this essay as evidence to further strengthen their point.
Beyond such possibilities, the discussion is meant to remind the discourse's participants, and especially those fighting to have access to it, that abortion is a worldwide social phenomenon. And as a worldwide social phenomenon, it deserves the consideration of all involved. Regardless of whether one is pro-life or pro-choice, one shall always be inclined to agree that the lives of all children are equally valued and that the value of a First World mother’s freedom should bear no real nor significant difference from that of an African mother’s freedom.
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Camp, S. (2020, October 16). To save women’s lives in Africa, bring abortion out of the shadows. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2010/nov/12/abortion-africa-health
Compassion International. (2020, November 10). Poverty in Africa Preys Upon the Most Vulnerable. https://www.compassion.com/poverty/poverty-in-africa.htm
Hamel, K., Tong, B., & Hofer, M. (2019, March 28). Poverty in Africa is now falling—but not fast enough. Brookings. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/future-development/2019/03/28/poverty-in-africa-is-now-falling-but-not-fast-enough/
World Health Organization. (2020, September 25). Preventing unsafe abortion. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/preventing-unsafe-abortion