Pro-Choice Politics in the Back Alleys of Africa

by Michael Johnson, MD

He forcefully took the woman by her arm. She resisted. He persisted.Her 5-foot, 90-pound frame was no match for his 7-foot, 240 pounds. At 80 plus years she refused to allow this 30-year-old man to have his way with her. However, both of them knew she would tire first. She did. He finally got her to agree to allow him to help her across the street. She neither smiled, nor said thank you. Why should she? She had just been dragged to this side by another “do-gooder” and would now miss her bus a second time. This is not the street she wanted to cross.

“If they don’t legalize abortions, women will seek them out in the back alleys and die from the complications.” So goes the old mantra that seeks to justify the push for “abortion rights” for poor women in the developing world. As well-meaning, nice people fight for the reproductive health rights of poor women, do they ever ask, “Is that the street they want to cross?” The simple fact is that most maternity facilities in most of these countries are not much better than “back-alley” birthing centers.

Why is it that the politically rich and powerful, yet resource-poor nations want to “help” the women of the resource-rich, yet politically poor nations abort their babies? Is it the interest of poor women’s health? Is this a human, women, or civil rights issue? Is it in the interest of the socioeconomic development of the recipient nations? Or is this to satisfy and supplement the living standards of the rich? After all, there are limited resources on the planet.

Rich donors want to convince poor mothers that it is normal to suck, scrape, and forcibly remove their unborn babies in bloody bits and pieces. Those who could afford the high-end clinics would get anesthesia. The 80 percent plus majority, however, would just have to sweat it out, just as they do when giving birth. Alternatively they could use the intentional ingestion, injection, or insertion of poisons, hormones, or other agents to cause the warm safe uterus to prematurely expel the individual being created inside of their bodies. The “fearfully and wonderfully made” is terminated and disposed of like a piece of rotten meat (Psalm 139:14). These women won’t listen. They want a safe baby, not a dead one.

Alternatively, donors could help provide sanitized or even clean environments for childbirth. They could replace the usual birth places of mud huts surrounded by garbage and raw sewage of the city slums, or dusty rural villages. A 20 percent death rate by age 3 could be markedly reduced by such simple measures. African mothers would welcome that help.

Abortion on demand (our demand) sends the poor mothers a message. It tells them it is best to abort, because statistically, they die in childbirth at a rate 300 times that of a mother in America or Europe. They will most likely deliver a premature, underweight, infected baby with a 100-200 times the chance of dying compared to those born in those developed nations (maternal death rates are as high as 1 in 15 in Africa versus 1 in 3,750 in America). Should she cross that street?

To say it simply, there is a contrast. For African mothers, having children defines them. For American mothers, having children confines them.

Mothers in America can legally “plan” their families by eliminating the nuisance of delivering a child. A child may be an inconvenient drain on their personal resources of time and money. They have the luxury of waiting for the convenience of marriage, sperm banks, hormone manipulations and injections, embryonic implants, and even surrogate mothers. Abortion is legal, and as medically safe as normal delivery. Hence a woman can “plan” which child to keep and which to throw away, as easily as updating her wardrobe. These mothers value their independence and personal freedom. Having children confines them.

In the developing world, the continuing saga of wars, civil strife, famine, plague, and the almost complete absence of ante-natal care rob mothers of the luxury of planning their families. They have seen and borne enough death. Telling them how to kill their unborn is not the street they want to cross. Their wardrobe is limited by what they have on their backs. Women in these cultures value their interdependence and personal responsibility to family and community. Having children defines them.

Children in America are part of a culture of “throw-away” non-recyclables. Whatever is inconvenient or too costly to store somewhere, like in a womb for instance, we throw away. African women don’t have that convenience. African children add value to a mother. A woman is beautiful, mature, rich, and useful if she bears children. In America, a woman is defined as mature, rich, and useful by how much money she brings home or how “beautiful” she is physically. The sooner she regains her B.C. (before childbearing) hourglass figure back, the sooner she regains her personal value.

In Africa, beauty is a woman who bears children. To be childless can mean a woman is useless and even cursed. Being “full figured” is a sign of beauty. Abortion is counter-culture. This is crossing the wrong street.

Children are insurance for the mother’s welfare in Africa. They enhance her value as a woman of substance. They don’t have the privilege of insurance, social security, pension plans, unemployment compensation, or medical insurance to assure they will be taken care of in later years. Children are part of continuing the prosperity of the family and community.

So as the west prides itself on helping poor mothers obtain their “god-given” rights to abort a child, mothers in the developing world want the right to life for their unborn. We are either naïve or casual and callus in ignoring their pleas. We are imposing our will on their bodies. It is our freedom of choice for their bodies. It is the wrong street. We should not expect a thank you or smile for service rendered.

Michael Johnson, MD, and his wife, Kay, have been involved with overseas missionary work since 1984. Their work has included a brief trip to Zaire (Congo), where they worked in Tandala Hospital for a period of seven weeks and again to Kenya in 1987 for a period of seven weeks. They began full-time work overseas in 1989 when they were accepted with World Gospel Mission of Marion, Indiana, to work at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya, East Africa. The Johnsons now make their home in Kenya to help provide healthcare to the over 30,000 street children of Nairobi and to help in the training of Kenyan physicians. They are also involved with several development projects, providing schools, water sources, farming, and medical assistance to underdeveloped communities. Through these ministries, many orphaned children are now being placed in Christian families by adoption and foster care. The Johnsons have four adult children: Elijah, Christina, Emmanuel, and Keturah, and two grandchildren. Their home church is Tasker Street Missionary Baptist Church in South Philadelphia.