It takes more than pro-choice laws to end deaths from unsafe abortions

I have been an abortion provider for as long as I have been a qualified doctor. In the past five years, I have been inundated with emails, social media requests and calls from women from all walks of life desperate for my help.

I will never forget one young woman who came to the public clinic in the West Rand township near Johannesburg, panicking about massive blood loss from her vagina. It was only after some prompting that she and a family member admitted to using abortion pills purchased outside a shopping centre. She bought the pills after being denied an abortion by the local clinic, where health workers told her “We don’t do those things here,” and shamed her for being young and sexually active.

Paramedics were soon on the scene as she needed resuscitation and they transported her to the nearest private hospital. Two hours later, I learned that she had gone to the operating theatre, where she was undergoing a hysterectomy as a result of sepsis and haemorrhage. She was only 17.

This happened in South Africa, a country that liberalised abortion 21 years ago. And it serves as a warning to those rejoicing over the referendum victory in Ireland: after the laws have been passed, the hard work of implementation begins.

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