I was going through my Twitter timeline a couple of days ago and happened upon an account that I found very interesting and necessary. The End Abortion Stigma Initiative (EASI_SA) shares information on abortion and where one can go for a safe abortion in South Africa. In a country where just earlier this month two women in Port Elizabeth were arrested in a case linked to illegal abortions, where girls and women are shamed and denied access to safe abortions by way of social and economic inequalities and being someone who had a negative experience with abortion, I'm so happy to see a space like this. Keen to find out more, I had an interview with Kristen Daskilewicz and Phumelele Trasada, who are volunteers at EASI.
1. What is the End Abortion Stigma Initiative?
EASI (The End Abortion Stigma Initiative) is dedicated to being a public voice in support of abortion as a normal and common pregnancy option. We unify volunteers committed become activists that support the end of abortion stigma in South Africa. We honour people who have abortions and who provide abortions. We share unbiased, non-judgemental and accurate information about abortion and where to access safe abortion services in South Africa.
2. What is abortion stigma?
Abortion stigma is a social process that marks abortion as bad and morally wrong. There is a lot of academic literature devoted to explaining stigma and in the last several years, literature on abortion stigma specifically has grown. Although we know that abortion stigma exists in most places in the world, it should be understood and worked through within local contexts—meaning that abortion stigma in South Africa may be different than abortion stigma in Botswana, Kenya, Ireland or El Salvador. We recommend inroads on our website as the best source for learning more about abortion stigma on a global scale.
3. Why did you feel like this initiative was necessary?
For so many reasons! Many—though not all—of our volunteers work in abortion services as abortion providers, researchers, advocates and more. Many of us have experienced abortion stigma first hand and are also concerned about how stigma impacts abortion seekers.
While South Africa has wonderful legislation regarding abortion, we know that it's not always enacted in reality. There are many people who don't even know that they have the right to access free and safe abortion services and be referred if their local health facility doesn't provide TOPs on site. There is no easily accessible, accurate resource where people can go to learn about what abortion is, the types of abortion services provided in SA and where they can access them.
Stigma means that there are few safe, legal clinics with clear adverts for abortion and few friends and family members in most of our lives who are easily identifiable as abortion-friendly. To make matters worse, crisis pregnancy centres masquerade as services to help pregnant women in distress, while actively working to dissuade women from having abortions, even using misinformation and deceptive tactics. When you are pregnant and don’t want to be there aren’t many places clearly marked as safe and abortion-friendly to turn to—and we at EASI wanted to change that.
4. How does your process work? What do you offer?
EASI is young—less than a year old! We are still finding our way and our process is not set in stone. For now, we are an all-volunteer group meeting once a month in Cape Town for discussion and activism planning. This week we launched our Twitter and Facebook accounts to help be more accessible to the broader public.
What we are able to offer is largely driven by our volunteers. We aim to be a trusted resource for accurate information about abortion. One of our volunteers has been working on compiling an updated list of clinics providing abortion services, because the Department of Health’s list is outdated. Another volunteer is working on developing an abortion doula (basically, abortion support people) training. This week we are celebrating Abortion Provider Appreciation Day by delivering cards and flowers to abortion providers in the Cape Town area, which was planned and implemented by our dedicated volunteers. We really encourage anyone with a stigma-busting idea to contact us about volunteering.
5. Do you work with specific clinics/ doctors that offer abortions?
We would love to! One of our dreams would be to offer support (and training, if desired) to providers. This is difficult without funding, but we are working towards that dream regardless. As a first step, we’ll be distributing our contact details to local providers so that they know we are here.
6. What response have you received since you've begun?
You might be surprised to hear that the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far! It has really warmed our hearts to see the outpouring of support on Twitter for EASI. We’ve also been hearing a lot of very justified anger about the lack of support for abortion seekers and state of unsafe abortion in South Africa. We’ve also been hearing compassionate messages supporting abortion seekers, people whom have had abortions, and abortion providers.
7. What are you hoping to achieve?
We want to normalise discussing abortion openly and freely and shift public narratives around abortion. Abortion is a legitimate medical procedure/option that people can choose for any reason. We want people to know that abortion is common. All types of people have abortions and that they are not 'evil' or 'baby killers'—they are everyday people. If you have had an abortion, you are not a bad person and you are not alone. If you provide abortions, you are not a bad person and you are not alone. If you are seeking an abortion, you are not a bad person and you are not alone.
8. What sort of public support would be beneficial to you?
We love getting support via social media. We’d love to see more discussion about abortion, for people to share their stories about having abortions or why they support access to abortion and for abortion providers to be appreciated and supported, rather than demonized. To have people advocating for abortion to be including as part of comprehensive sexual education for young people. To advocate for abortion to be part of the curriculum for medical students, rather than an elective.
For people who want to be more involved in EASI, they can become volunteers. You don’t have to be an abortion specialist to be a volunteer. Everyone has their own skill—whether it’s graphic design, cooking, communications, fundraising—that they can contribute to the cause. Email us at endabortionstigmaSA@gmail.com for more information about how to get involved.
Thank you to the EASI volunteers, Kristen and Phumelele who took the the time to answer my questions as well as for the work you're doing.
You can reach the EASI in the following places:
Please also read, sign and share their petition to government on intervening and preventing unsafe abortions here.
Women On Sex also made a call for women who would like to share their experiences with abortion a while back. Please do get in contact with them so that we can use such opportunities to take charge of how our own stories are told. If you haven't seen their first web series, have a look at the below trailer and find the rest of their videos here.