“Safe Abortion,” but safe to whom ?

Solomie Deribessa , M.D., MPH.

It was a beautiful Friday afternoon in 2005, after finishing my usual daily activity, I took a taxi to go home. Along the way I was reading a small booklet about the facts of abortion. The booklet was prepared by a group of physicians to oppose the imminent abortion law in the country at that time. Not knowing that this could affect the young lady who was sitting beside me, I continued to the 3rd and 4th pages; some of the pages in the booklet contained disturbing pictures and I tried to cover those with my hand, but the lady was attentively following what I was reading and she requested to uncover it, and I did .

She was in her mid-twenties. She started to cry; I was shocked and got also confused … and asked for apology. However, she said “You don’t need to apologize,” she continued “Today I have learned the biggest lesson in my life.”
She asked if I could spend some minutes with her. I was already eager as to what connection the lady could have with the pictures, and I agreed, and we both got off the taxi and went to a nearby small cafe. She started by introducing herself to me,

“My name is Zinet (not her real name), I came recently from a neighboring country where I had been working as a house maid for the last two years. I always disliked the way the house master looked at me. One day when I was doing my house cleaning duty, he just got into the room and closed the door, I tried to shout, but no one was in the house… and he raped me. My spirit was broken. His wife did not know what happened, but she noticed that I was depressed and I could not be the playful girl that she knew before. Besides the psychological trauma I faced; after few weeks I found out that I was pregnant. I had a lot of awful mixed emotions however decided to make some more money for my travel and stayed for four more months there and came back a week ago. My family is very conservative, and I have not told them yet, I don’t know what will be their reaction to my situation.”

She started wiping her tears from her face.

“Today I went to the hospital, I told them my problem and requested for abortion care. They gave me these laboratory papers to have blood and urine tests and they told me to come back with the results on Monday for the procedure.” Sobbing she continued.

“But why didn’t they tell me that abortion is killing a baby?” she cried pointing to the pictures on the booklet. I couldn’t answer on their behalf so I kept quiet again. I realized however that the pictures had a profound effect on her. “Thank you for saving me from shedding innocent blood.” I tried to comfort her and support her decision.

Throughout my conversation with her, my mind kept wandering, with so many questions; is it’safe’ as they call it? Safe to whom? Is ‘safe abortion’ the solution to ‘unsafe abortion’? Isn’t maternal safety comes at the cost of the baby’s life? Isn’t there other mechanisms to keep both safe? As health care providers, shouldn’t our mission be to save both lives? Why are the people who made the law so blind? Why doesn’t the government do the right thing? Who should advocate for the unborn baby? My mind whirled trying to find answers to these questions.

“You know what,” she said, “I will never, ever want to abort.” I was overjoyed with her decision and wanted to make some effort to help her. I called some friends who owned a private clinic; they provide free delivery service for needy women like her so I connected her to them.

After a few months, her friend called and told me that she gave birth to a beautiful 3 kg baby girl and she named her after me. Now her daughter has grown, all her family problems have been solved and she is a happy mother.
She has never regretted allowing her daughter to live.

My encounter with Zenit created the ethical question of the so called “safe abortion” but safe to whom?
It remained instilled in my mind for several years.

Dr Solomie Deribessa is a pediatric infectious disease fellow at the Addis Ababa University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

About Tenayistilign

I am a physician trained at Jimma Institute of Health Sciences ( now Jimma University, in Jimma, Ethiopia) and Wayne State University ( Detroit, MI, USA). I teach and practice General Nephrology/Hypertension and Kidney Transplantation in the USA.
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