Traumatised health care professionals forced to take part in abortion procedures

News Release

Doctors for Life, South Africa

The incident at Philadelphia Hospital again highlights the unbearable pressure exerted on healthcare professionals to take part in the Termination of Pregnancy Act against their conscience. The following quotes were collected from traumatized Health Care Professionals whom Doctors For Life contacted:

Healthcare worker 1: “I never really understood what a TOP was, and didn’t really think to find out, I didn’t ask the patient why she was crying before she went in, I just held her hand and told her it would be okay. When the procedure was nearing the end, I looked into the vacuum bottle to see what I could see. A hand with an arm attached to it, a tiny leg, with a kneecap, and a head without the mouth. This little tot must have been about 16 – 18 weeks. Then the realisation hit me, this is why she was crying.”

“On one occasion the nursing sister thrust open the door of the sluice room and demanded that I stay away. Being a woman, it’s never easy to say; ‘I must stay away’ we are all as inquisitive as cats. I peered into the sluice room and saw a tiny baby girl. She must have been about 23 – 25 weeks old. My heart lurched into my throat, to see this little girl gasping for air, and her little arms were grasping at air.”

“My response was to wrap her up and take her home and try and make her live. I didn’t, and she wouldn’t have made it. She tried to cry, and little grunting noises were falling on deaf ears. I too turned my back on her, and went to sit in the linen room until she passed away.”

Healthcare worker 2: ” I don’t know who to talk to, I don’t want to have part in abortion because of my convictions, but am being pressurised by the government to work in the woman’s ward. They give abortion tablets and we have to complete the mess. I am too afraid to speak over the radio for fear that my voice may be recognised and because I need to consider my income.”

Healthcare worker 3: “I work at the T.O.P. clinic but I do not want to work here yet I am being pressurised to do so. Somebody needs to stop this. They can’t do this”

Healthcare worker 4: “They are very subtle, I stood up against abortion, and afterwards there were the following repercussions: I did not get any promotion; everything I said they shot down. The district nominated me to attend a seminar, but the director said I could not go because I am against abortion. I don’t think I will speak over the radio. Everything to do with abortion gives me a mental block.”

Healthcare worker 5: “Of cause it is a traumatic experience to be part of an abortion procedure. Once I was called to take an aborted baby to the sluice. It traumatised me for a long time”

Doctors For Life International (DFL) represents 750 doctors, specialists and professors of medicine from different medical faculties across South Africa.

Doctors For Life will assist and give legal advice in cases where nurses, doctors and other healthcare workers are being pressurised to have part in abortion procedures against their conscience.

Enquiries: Dr Jay Mannie (Dep. CEO)

Mobile phone: +27(0)83 6414 382
More Information:


Crisis at Philadelphia Hospital

Highlights The Violation Of Women’s Rights Due To Mismanagement Of Our Health System


EMBARGO: Immediate Release Date: 26 June 2002

Doctors for Life International

Doctors For Life (DFL), an organisation of about 770 doctors, places the blame for the lack of staff to support women having abortions at Philadelphia hospital, squarely on the shoulders of the South African government. Before the government bulldozed the law to legalise abortion on demand through Parliament, DFL warned via numerous press releases that the infrastructure to implement the law does not exist.

Firstly, there were not enough doctors and nursing staff who did not have conscientious objection against assisting with abortions. The government ignored us even when this fact was repeated in our submissions  before the Select Committee on Abortion in Parliament.

Secondly, the lack of sonographic equipment to determine the gestational age of the unborn baby before an abortion made a mockery of the legislation (the law allowed abortion for a certain gestational age for different reasons).

The biggest survey ever done amongst doctors showed that more than 80% of South African doctors are against abortion on demand. The government was fully aware of this attitude when they forced the members of the ANC to vote against their consciences in support of “Termination of Pregnancy”. They should therefore not be surprised when only 5 of the 27 hospitals in Mpumalanga have staff who are willing to take part in abortions.

In what appears to be a hypocritical move, the government seems concerned when women in the Carte Blanche programme had to deliver their own aborted babies, while the Department of Health is busy introducing the abortion pill (RU486) which will have the same result of causing women to abort at home.

DFL also had special meetings with the Health Professionals Council of South Africa where we explained the  dilemma of pro-life health professionals. We mentioned that it strikes us as unethical that some health professionals are prescribing abortifacients and then tell the patient to go to a hospital, manned by pro-life staff, to have the abortion completed. This appeared like a strategy to force unwilling, ethically sound health professionals to take part in killing one patient (the unborn child) at the request of another (the mother). It boiled down to a doctor starting the procedure and then referring the patient for the “mopping up” of the procedure to pro-life staff.

It is a well-known fact amongst nursing staff that doctors list abortions as sterilisation procedures on theatre lists. Once the staff is in the theatre, scrubbed and half way through the procedure, they discover that the doctor is doing an abortion.

DFL therefore calls upon the government to accept responsibility for the dilemma women find themselves in. Something should be done about the pressure on health workers to take part in the abortion procedure.  The public should be well informed if a certain clinic/hospital is unwilling to perform abortions. Once a hospital is identified as an abortion provider, the Department of Health must make sure that there are enough pro-abortion staff to render a 24 hour service, 7 days a week.

It must, however, be stated once again that health professionals do have the constitutional right NOT to  participate in ANY part of the abortion procedure.

Enquiries: Dr Jay Mannie (Dep. CEO) Mobile phone: +27(0)83 6414 382