[notice]There is an urgent need to alert desperate women and girls that there are safe places for them to come for help — Bronwyn van Zyl, director Alternatives, Pregnancy Crisis Centre.[/notice]
Statistics like the
8 427 schoolgirl pregnancies in the Eastern Cape last year point to the scale of the problem of unplanned pregnancies faced by women in this region. In Port Elizabeth the regular long line of girls standing in the abortion queue at Dora Nginza Hospital testifies to the seriousness of the problem in the city. Many of these young women are turned away because the State hospital can not cope with the demand for free abortions. On the streets the women will see stickers advertising “free, painfree, quick abortions”.
“An abortion is none of these three things”, says Alternatives Pregnancy Crisis Centre director Bronwyn van Zyl. “Those who place these stickers are hoping to make money out of women in desperate situations. Women so desperate that they will put their lives on the line and turn to illegal methods to find a way out. We believe that these precious women need the care that they will find at Alternatives in Westbourne Road or at Heart in Walmer”.
“We are helping many women but we are still not seeing nearly as many as we would like to when we look at the extent of the need in the city,” she said.
Since it opened its doors in 1997 as a Jesus Christ-centred ministry to any woman in a crisis pregnancy situation, the trained volunteer counsellors at Alternatives have helped many women by offering them unconditional love and acceptance and assisting them to make calm and informed choices. In recent years this ministry was extended with the opening of the Heart Pregnancy Crisis Centre in Walmer. Originally an Alternatives satellite, Heart became an indpendent ministry of the Joy To The Nations church in October last year and caters predominantly for women from the neighbouring Gqebera (Walmer Township) community.
Alternatives and Heart offer HCG pregnancy testing and confidential counselling for any woman in need, regardless of age, religion, marital status or background. The centres networks with social workers to assist women who choose to place their babies for adoption. They also provide antenatal classes and a post natal support group for mothers who choose to keep their babies. The centres support single mothers with baby packages every three months after their babies have been born. They also offer post abortion counselling for women who are suffering after making that difficult choice. Each Alternatives and Heart counsellor is a trained volunteer with an understanding of the physical and emotional effects of a crisis pregnancy, single parenting and abortion.
Counsellors often see girls whose pregnancy tests are negative. “These girls have a wonderful opportunity to examine their choices. They have been given a second chance,” said Van Zyl. “Most sexually active girls are concerned about getting pregnant or getting HIV. The reality is that there are 32 sexually transmitted infections that should be taken seriously, not just one.
“The condom has been designed to lessen the chances of a girl getting pregnant or infected with HIV but it is ineffective in protecting against other infections which are not only transmitted through body fluids and still have devastating effects especially on the women. HPV for example, an extremely common STI, can cause cervical cancer in women. Society and the media have fooled our youth into believing that there is such a thing as safe casual sex; it does not exist. Our heart is for these girls to understand how valuable they are. Our hope is that the choices that they make will be life giving for themselves and their future children.”
Van Zyl said: “We also want our community to know that we are dealing with more than just the crisis situation. Mothers who are preparing to have their babies or who have already given birth are welcome to attend our antenatal and postnatal groups for love and support on their journey of birth, breastfeeding and motherhood.”
She said women often arrived at Alternatives thinking it is was an abortion clinic. ” We immediately advise them we are here to offer alternatives. We ask them if they are certain they are pregnant and test them if necessary. We tell them that before they decide whether to go ahead with abortion they are entitled to know what it entails and what options they have.
“We do see some change their mind about aborting when presented with options. Others leave, and although we do try to follow up where we can, we dont always know what they ultimately decide. But the heart of Alternatives is to care for women, bring them the truth about their options and come alongside them with compassion no matter what they decide.”
Alternatives is situated at 34 Westbourne Road, Central, and operates from 9am to 3pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 9am to 1pm on Friday. The Heart office is at Joy To The Nations church on the corner of 9th Avenue and Villiers Road, Walmer, and is open from 9am to 3pm on Thursdays.
Heart counsellor, Angie Mc Naughton said the centre was well supported by women from Gqebera as it was perceived as a confidential environment. She said many schoolgirls visited the centre in the afternoon. A mom and baby support group called Moms & Miracles was held at the centre on Wednesday mornings and was meeting a big need of mothers
for childcare guidance.
“We have recently seen our first Heart baby at the centre. It is great to see a mom who once had her mind set on abortion now falling in love with her baby!”