Back Alley Abortions in Zambia

Zambia is a landlocked country located in the southern part of Africa. Since its independence, Zambia has remained peaceful. Zambia despite its liberal education has remained a Christian nation. In government schools, students are taught about every religion including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam, students are also taught Christianity in a factual, unemotional non- evangelistic way. The interesting thing is religious education is not compulsory when you consider the fact that Christianity is an adopted state religion.

Throughout my time in high school, I would hear of rumours of back-alley abortions, girls would fall pregnant and out of fear of the law and condemnation they would concoct some medication to abort the unborn baby. Girls would use things like coat hangers, boiled Coca-Cola or visit a traditional doctor who would give them a mixture of herbs to abort. Some girls were lucky, others died.

One such story sticks in my mind about a girl who fell pregnant after her boyfriend raped her, she was so concerned about legal ramification and family embarrassment she had a back alley abortion, which nearly killed her. Back alley abortions still remain a major problem nationwide, it accounts for half of the gynaecological visits, this is because the surgeries are done in unsanitary environments by untrained people.

Back alley abortions statics from the ministry of health

  • “Incomplete abortions among women younger than 20 were estimated at 23 per cent;
  • 25 per cent of maternal deaths due to induced abortions were in girls younger than 18;
  • 50 per cent of acute gynaecological admissions were the result of abortion complications, a big proportion being from unsafe abortion;
  • In 1993, over 16,000 maternal hospital admissions nationally were due to abortions performed in the communities by non–professionals;
  • Unsafe abortions account for 30 per cent of all maternal mortality;
  • Insufficient knowledge about women’s rights specifically those related to sexual and reproductive health;
  • Out of stock of reproductive products, such as family planning pills and condoms; and,
  • There are often long distances to health care centres and a lack of youth-friendly services and a shortage of human        resources.”-


When you see these figures and the reasons why most visits to the gynaecology are back alley abortions related, you would be forgiven to think that abortion is illegal in Zambia. To my surprise, it is not illegal and has not been illegal since 1972. Article 26 of 1972  makes it possible for women to seek abortion based on health and social, economic grounds.

Also, when the woman’s life is at risk, the constitution even gives the concession to terminate a pregnancy allows for termination when a girl has been raped. When you consider just how liberal abortion laws are in Zambia in comparison with other African countries, why are so many women resorting to back-alley abortions?

Culture plays a huge part, I think Zambia is proof that culture is what determines politics. Zambia is very much a Christian nation with very religious culture. Christian philosophy is pro-life and believes that life begins at conception, this could explain why most Zambians believe that women should not have the rights to terminate pregnancies regardless of the circumstances.

Most of the girls/women that have abortions have a greater fear of cultural shame and the stigma that comes with having an abortion rather than any legal ramifications. Whether culture will change I don’t know, the biggest criticism I have of our attitude towards this issue is, we do not have grace.

The Zambian culture has not provided an alternative so that women do not have to put there lives at risk to have an abortion.

Furthermore, most people do not have access to proper medical care and women that are of high social, economic status make use of the law. The high levels of back-alley abortion could also be because people are not aware of there rights.

Moving forward, finding a balance between the stigma and grace is very important, regardless of where you stand on this issue. 30% mortality due to unsafe abortion is also morally unacceptable.


For more on the detailed analysis of the laws surrounding abortions –


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