Despite South Africa's liberal abortion law permitting abortion on request in the first trimester and under restricted conditions for second-trimester pregnancies, the practice of unsafe self-induced abortion persists. However, the prevalence of this practice, the methods used and the reasons behind it are relatively under-researched. As part of a larger study seeking to improve abortion services in the Western Cape Province, we explored reports of prior attempts to self-induce abortion among women undergoing legal second-trimester abortion.
To describe the prevalence and methods of and factors related to unsuccessful attempts at self-induction of abortion by women presenting without complications and seeking second-trimester abortion at public health facilities in the Western Cape.
In a cross-sectional study from April to August 2010, 194 consenting women undergoing second-trimester abortion were interviewed by trained fieldworkers using structured questionnaires at four public sector facilities near Cape Town.
Thirty-four women (17.5%; 95% confidence interval 12.7 - 23.4) reported an unsuccessful attempt to self-induce abortion during the current pregnancy before going to a facility for second-trimester abortion. No factors were significantly associated with self-induction, but a relatively high proportion of this small sample were unemployed and spoke an indigenous African language at home. A readily available herbal product called Stametta was most commonly used; other methods included taking tablets bought from unlicensed providers and using other herbal remedies. No use of physical methods was reported.
The prevalence of unsafe self-induction of abortion is relatively high in the Western Cape. Efforts to inform women in the community about the availability of free services in the public sector and to educate them about the dangers of self-induction and unsafe providers should be strengthened to help address this public health issue.