A KwaZulu-Natal action group comprising public and private sector representatives is working on a joint strategy to eradicate illegal abortion advertising.
The group, which includes the KwaZulu Natal (KZN) Department of Health, local SAPS and municipalities, and an NGO which prefers to remain anonymous hope to launch a pilot project which the rest of South Africa can follow. Illegal abortion advertisements on lampposts, street signs, walls and other outdoor structures are a problem throughout South Africa and to date there has been very little evidence of the law being enforced to stop this crime. A Cape Town pro-life activist, Peter Throp has drawn attention to the issue by openly pasting pro-life stickers over illegal abortion posters on Belville streets — and has been fined R2 500 by the City Of Cape Town, while backstreet abortionists who put up their advertisements at night continue to evade the law.
The emerging KZN joint effort to tackle the problem of illegal abortion advertising was birthed at a recent meeting between the KZN Department of Health and two executive board members of an NGO.
Adding fuel to fire
The KZN Health Department agrees that the Government legalised abortions in order to curb illegal abortions, but that the reverse has happened. Furthermore they are keen to overcome the problem of illegal abortion advertising which is adding fuel to the fire. The two Health Department officials stated that the Government / SAPS needs to become more active in investigating the activities of the illegal abortionists and securing their convictions. The abortionists are mostly unqualified to do abortions and hence merely supply misoprostal tablets, and sometimes do “a clean up” afterwards. The teenagers and women who pay for their services end up in hospital with complications and the government has to carry the problem with huge financial costs.
Follow-up meetings have been planned for the near future between the KZN Department of Health, local SAPS and municipalities, and the NGO involved. They are trusting to get a pilot project running for the rest of South Africa to follow.
An 11th Hour abortion counseling team went on an anti-abortion outreach, in the KZN town of Kranskop, where abortion advertisements litter municipal property. Team member Michelle Grobler reported that on requesting assistance from the Kranskop SAPS to investigate illegal abortion advertising in their area and get the abortionists convicted, and to deal with illegal advertising on municipal property (as the Durban SAPS do), they were told that Durban SAPS can do it, but they don’t.
The laws of South Africa are being broken every day! Illegal advertising promotes illegal activities relating to illegal abortion!
According to our law … backyard abortion advertising (and illegal abortion) is in breach of the “Termination of Pregnancy Act” which states that certain conditions must be in place before an abortion may take place, otherwise it is illegal. (http://www.info.gov.za/acts/1996/a92-96.pdf and http://www.info.gov.za/view/DownloadFileAction?id=77860 )
“The Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa” (ASA) is an independent body set up and paid for by the marketing communication industry to ensure that it’s system of self-regulation works in the public interest. The Code of Advertising Practice is the guiding document of ASA. It covers the fact that advertising is a service to the public and, as such, should be informative, factual, honest, decent and its content should not violate any of the laws of the country (and illegal abortion adverts do not line up with this standard). All entities bound by the Code shall neither prepare nor accept any advertising which conflicts with the Code and shall withdraw any advertising which has subsequently been deemed to be unacceptable by the ASA Directorate, Advertising Standards Committee, Advertising Industry Tribunal or Appeal Committee.
Illegal placing of advertisements on municipal property is also in breach of municipal by-laws and the ‘Outdoor Advertising and Control Policy’ bylaw.
On February 8, 2011 the Northern KZN Courier in Dundee reported that abortion adverts have also caused a headache to municipal officials who say according to the new laws, residents have to apply to the municipality to have their posters displayed and the municipality will put their stamp on each poster to say that it is legal. As stated in the municipal by-laws, no posters are permitted to be displayed on bridges, traffic lights, traffic signs, natural features, freeways and/or national routes. Signage Control Officer, Maureen Botha, said the municipality was experiencing difficulty enforcing these laws. She remarked that whenever she contacted the individuals to remove their illegal abortion posters they would either hang up or swear at her. The paste they used to stick their posters up proved very hard to remove and leaves behind a terrible mess.
Although regulations may differ in detail, the aim of regulation throughout South Africa is: “to ensure that outdoor advertising is environmentally sensitive and socially responsible and that signage is displayed on structures that are safe, aesthetically pleasing and suited to the area in which they are put up. The Law also states that any person who contravenes or fails to comply shall be guilty of an offence and liable for conviction.
‘Selling a car’
In May 2012 police spokesperson Katlego Mokgale told the Mail & Guardian that advertising abortion services was similar to “selling a car” and that it was a matter for the Advertising Standards Authority. But the ASA says it’s powerless to do anything about it. According to the Mail & Guardian, Freddy Makgato, head of legal and regulatory affairs at the ASA, said that even though the authority had received a number of complaints about advertisements for these illegal services, they were unable to enforce any rulings they made on the matter. An agreement with the JMPD to have police patrols remove the posters and arrest those putting them up had proved ineffective.
eThekwini Municipality vowed in May 2011 to put a stop to backstreet abortions by removing misleading posters and uncovering bogus doctors. The programme includes the removal of pamphlets, setting up a task team to monitor progress and raising community awareness about doctors who perform illegal and dangerous abortions.
“We encourage young women who opt for abortions to ensure they go to a legitimate clinic or government hospitals to have the procedure done legally and in a manner that does not put their lives at risk,” said Doctor Musa Gumede, Deputy City Manager in the Health and Social Services Cluster. He said the problem required the municipality to work with the SAPF and Metro Police in tracking and arresting the culprits, and a public awareness programme, warning of the dangers of backstreet abortions, targeting young women, including high school pupils and students is needed.
When Craigslist stopped taking ads for prostitution in 2010, many advertisers did not migrate to new sites: online prostitution advertising plummeted by more than 50 percent, according to AIM Group. In the same way, with the targeting and removal of illegal abortion advertising, illegal abortions will plummet!
“Use the RICA Act and cut off the advertised contact telephone number and it will render abortion advertising useless” was another good suggestion made by Peter Throp, mentioned in Gateway News recently.
In conclusion: the Constitution stipulates that before Parliament can strike down any existing laws or pass new ones there has to be public participation; but we can clearly see that the law is in place to protect the community from illegal advertising!
The problem is that apart from a branch of the Durban Police, and eThekwini Municipality, very few government departments seem to be enforcing the law and bringing offenders to justice, even though the public has requested something be done! The question is why not?
May the KZN Department of Health successfully launch a pilot project that will benefit the future of South Africa.
- Dianne Steven is a registered nurse and midwife, and has a Bachelors degree in Ministry. She has been involved in missions, prison work, ministering to gangsters and drug addicts, and been involved in pro-life work, for the last 20 years.