Abortion in South Africa is legal on request in the first trimester of pregnancy, and in special circumstances afterwords. Abortion was legal only under very limited circumstances until 1 February 1997, when the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act (Act 92 of 1996) came into force, providing abortion on demand for a variety of cases.
In South Africa, a woman of any age can get an abortion on request with no reasons given if she is less than 13 weeks pregnant. If she is between 13 and 20 weeks pregnant, she can get the abortion if
(a) her own physical or mental health is at stake.
(b) the baby will have severe mental or physical abnormalities.
(c) she is pregnant because of incest, (d) she is pregnant because of rape.
(e) she is of the personal opinion that her economic or social situation is sufficient reason for the termination of pregnancy.
If she is more than 20 weeks pregnant, she can get the abortion only if her or the fetus’ life is in danger or there are likely to be serious birth defects.
A woman under the age of 18 will be advised to consult her parents, but she can decide not to inform or consult them if she so chooses. A woman who is married or in a life-partner relationship will be advised to consult her partner, but she can decide not to inform or consult him/her. An exception is that if the woman is severely mentally ill or has been unconscious for a long time, where consent of a life-partner, parent or legal guardian is required.
In general, only medical doctors may perform abortions. Nurses who have received special training may also perform abortions up to the 12th week of pregnancy. A medicine-induced abortion can be performed by any medical doctor at his/her premises up to 7 weeks from the first day of the last menstrual period. The usual method is a dose of an antiprogestin, followed by a dose of a prostaglandin analogue two days later.
Abortion can be had for free at certain state hospitals or clinics, although sometimes only if the woman is referred by a health worker. Most abortion centres will insist on providing pre- and post-abortion counselling, and the woman can legally demand it, but it is not a legal requirement that abortion centres provide it.
In Gauteng province—5% of maternal deaths following childbirth are abortion related, and 57% of these are related to illegal abortions.
A 2003 study in Soweto showed the following: the rate of abortions for women older than 20 years decreased from 15.2% in 1999 to 13.2% in 2001, the rate for women aged 16–20 decreased from 21% to 14.9%, and the rate for women aged 13–16 decreased from 28% to 23%. In 2001, 27% of abortions were second-trimester.