Where Abortion Is Illegal

The young girl was sick, afraid, and ashamed when she came to the hospital. She had had an unwanted pregnancy. In Uganda, abortion is illegal.[1] Without access to safe, legal reproductive health care, she turned to a traditional healer.[2] The traditional healer helped her end the pregnancy but she developed an infection.[3] Given the legal jeopardy and social stigma of abortion, the girl tried to keep it a secret and delayed seeking care; by the time she came to the hospital, she was septic and needed surgery to survive.

My friend was serving as a visiting physician at the hospital, teaching obstetrics and gynecology to medical students and resident physicians. She quickly performed surgery to control the infection. But that was just the start of the girl’s treatment. Northern Uganda is under-served and remote. Public health resources are lacking and hygiene can be difficult to maintain. Surgery is dangerous, but so is post-operative care. The risk of infection remains high. So, the girl had to spend months in the hospital, where doctors and nurses monitored her and changed her surgical dressings on a daily basis until she healed. She had to go back to the operating room three more times during that period. Through care and great perseverance, the medical team avoided having to perform a hysterectomy to eliminate the infection. When she could finally go home, she left quickly and quietly. My friend said it was likely her youth, the resilience of a teenager’s body, that allowed her to survive.

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