We submitted this letter to the Mail & Guardian as the SRJC and it was edited substantially and published and attributed incorrectly. The response is deeply disappointing. We stand by our original letter and want to reiterate that incorrect referrals cost time and money for the health system and the women involved. It is not acceptable to repeat and publish inaccurate information. The Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act notes the obligation of the provider to refer to appropriate services. This journalism undermines medical ethics. By the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition.
It is wonderful that after a couple of years of drought the Mail & Guardian is writing about abortion again and in 2017 noting the reproductive justice that women endure.
The article takes the National Department of Health’s database of designated facilities and maps it over a map of South Africa. Given that the National Department of Health does not cover any information on abortion on its website, this is welcome. It is welcome as lack of information further perpetuates abortion stigma.
Over the weekend, we had a chance to review the site and we noted that the database was not checked and that the information is old, some of it five years old. There would have been a better outcome had there been reference to a related MHealth pilot tool, outlining the information gaps in relation to abortion services in Gauteng.
By providing poor information on abortion, we again make it difficult for women, in particular poor and black women, to access services. Members of the SRJC shared their thoughts over the weekend on their E-list: One provider in the W Cape added, “This is so sickening. No first trimesters are done at Victoria hospital. There are no TOP services at Wesfleur, a person will be sent for training in May. Lady Michaelis that does first trimester medical and surgical abortions at primary care level with one nurse provider since 2010 is not even on the DATA base.” (sic)
Another added, “It takes a lot of work undoing the false information. M&G doesn’t pay us to provide new referrals and clarity regarding facilities due to inaccuracies. They don’t know what a functioning abortion clinic should have, clearly. The SRJC has not published such a database yet because it is a big task which has already taken us close to 2 years to get accurate info.
“We take seriously the repercussions of bad referrals and as a clinician, I must take responsibility for patient care and that starts with the information provided. Are media houses and journalists willing to take responsibility for their referrals? It would be a great if they assisted women by pressuring the government with recent stats, some investigative articles and refrain from acting like a service provider unless willing to take responsibility like one.”
While another added, “Did you see this? Look at the map with the so-called online services. If I look at the Western Cape it is very incorrect! How can they publish this? Where did they get the information from? I provide the second trimesters in George and it is NOT outsourced to Marie Stopes. It used to be, but this stopped about 5 years ago. And in Beaufort West no one is providing first trimesters, neither is Prins Albert hospital and there are many more mistakes.”
Service providers, activists and women are not pleased as this directly affects the work they do. It is the responsibility of government to provide accurate information. They do not. Working on abortion is political and stigmatised. If journalists are going to provide information they need to fact-check and do it properly and work in partnerships. Women indeed deserve better.
We hope that in future there could be more collaborative efforts in making this great initiative work.
The Sexual and Reproductive Justice Coalition DM
"Have no fear of perfection - you'll never reach it." ~ Salvador Dalí