Pregnancy or Prison?
Updated May 15, 2019: Women’s access to safe abortion is under threat in the United States. Many states seem to be competing to see which can pass the most restrictive and draconian anti-abortion legislation, with the goal of getting a hearing before the Supreme Court.
This week, Alabama passed a total ban on abortion, without any exemptions for cases rape or incest. Alabama joins Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa, North Dakota and Ohio in passing some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws. Though the recent Texas bill to criminalize and punish abortion-seeking women with the death penalty stalled, it is yet another piece of evidence that we are barreling toward a potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. And increasingly criminalizing women’s bodies.
MSI provides contraceptive and post-abortion care to in some of the most restrictive environments around the world — countries and communities where women are arrested for exercising their right to choose.
Naomi is one such woman.
Unsafe abortion is a major issue in Zambia, and the consequences for women can be devastating. Zambian law states that women seeking an abortion must obtain three doctors’ signatures, despite Zambia having only 1,500 doctors in a country of 16.2 million people.
Naomi Mwansa is 21-years-old, and lives with her mother and step-father in a compound in Zambia’s Mpika province. Having already dropped out of school to have her first child, Naomi became pregnant for a second time when she was 18. She felt she had no option but to take matters into her own hands.
“I knew I was breaking the law, but I resorted to unsafe abortion because of pressure from my family,” she said. “My parents said they would kick me out of the house unless I had an abortion. My boyfriend said that this would ruin his life and he would leave me unless I aborted. I became the example my family used when they talked about bad behavior. Everyone said I would amount to nothing as I would never go back to school again.”
In desperation, Naomi tried to induce an abortion herself on three separate occasions. It failed all three times. Eventually, she decided she would visit a traditional herbalist whom she had heard could help girls with unwanted pregnancies. This time, it worked.
Alone with her decision, Naomi confided in a close friend. However, the issue of abortion is so stigmatized in Zambia that the friend immediately told the police what she had done. That night when Naomi was sleeping, her neighbors woke her up with torches.
“I heard a knock at the door and then the noise of people in my house. That’s when they took me to the police station.”
Naomi was sentenced to two years in prison.
“I was scared to go to prison. I was worried about the number of years I would spend there,” she explained. “I was worried about how my child would fare since she was very young. I was really scared.”
Naomi found prison life difficult. Aside from being deprived of her freedom, she missed her daughter terribly.
After being released, Naomi knew that getting pregnant again would mean the end of her dreams. Fortunately, Naomi’s friends told her about MSI Zambia, and she went to meet one of our community educators. After some consideration, Naomi chose a contraceptive implant that would protect her from unwanted pregnancy for up to five years.
No woman should have to experience what Naomi did, which is why we stand in solidarity with women in the United States who want and need safe abortion care. No matter where in the world she lives, every woman deserves access to safe abortion and to decide what happens to her own body.